A California poultry supplier agreed to pay nearly $3.8 million to settle allegations that it endangered child workers and committed wage theft while processing chickens for major U.S. supermarkets, according to the Labor Department.
The agency announced the settlement with Exclusive Poultry Inc. on Monday, accusing the company of behaving “recklessly” by violating child labor law, stealing wages and firing workers who cooperated with the investigation.
Officials said Exclusive Poultry, which is based in La Puente, employed kids as young as 14 to “debone poultry using sharp knives” and to “operate power-driven lifts to move pallets.”
A federal judge granted regulators a preliminary injunction to prevent the company from transporting “hot goods” ― that is, poultry produced in facilities where laws were allegedly broken.
Exclusive Poultry could not immediately be reached for comment.
Seema Nanda, the Labor Department’s solicitor general, urged workers in a statement to come forward if their employers didn’t pay them what they were owed.
“U.S. regulators have said they are dealing with a rise in child labor cases, as migrant children who fled Latin America wind up in slaughterhouses and other potentially dangerous workplaces.”
“Employers who violate [wage law] and their downstream distributors and customers should be on notice that we will use all tools at our disposal to protect workers, regardless of age and immigration status,” she said.
U.S. regulators have said they are dealing with a rise in child labor cases, as migrant children who fled Latin America wind up in slaughterhouses and other potentially dangerous workplaces.
The Labor Department said in February that it had seen a 69% increase in children being employed illegally since 2018. The agency’s wage and hour administrator said the cases tended to fall in two categories: those in which children were working more hours than the law allows, and those in which children were performing dangerous duties that the law forbids.
In announcing the settlement with Exclusive Poultry, the Labor Department said the firm’s chicken products were ultimately sold to grocery stores including Kroger-owned Ralphs, as well as the multinational food distributor Sysco.
Earlier this year, the Labor Department said its investigators found that another company, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., had employed children in cleaning roles at meatpacking plants, including using “back saws, brisket saws and head splitters.” The company agreed to pay $1.5 million in civil penalties after regulators accused it of employing at least 100 minors.
The agency recommended that supermarkets and other food sellers obtain “written assurance” from their contractors that they are following wage-and-hour law and aren’t employing children illegally.
UPDATE: This story originally noted that the Labor Department listed Exclusive Poultry as a supplier to the grocery chains Aldi and the Grocery Outlet, among others. But spokespeople for both those companies said Exclusive Poultry has never supplied for them.