By Leah Douglas
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Meat companies should examine their supply chains for evidence of child labor, the Biden administration said in a letter sent to top meatpacking companies on Wednesday.
The letter is part of an effort by several agencies, led by the Department of Labor, to curb the use of illegal child labor across sectors. Since 2018, illegal employment of children has risen 69% in the U.S., according to the agency.
In February, the Labor Department found that more than 100 children had been illegally employed by Packers Sanitation Services Inc, a company that contracts with meat-packers to clean slaughterhouses. The company was fined $1.5 million.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked meat and poultry companies in the letter to determine whether illegal child labor is being used in their supply chains and to adopt stronger child labor standards for subcontractors.
"Companies in food manufacturing — particularly those with significant market power — need to be vigilant about the standards of their suppliers to help reduce systemic violations and abuses," Vilsack said in the letter.
The letter was sent to 18 companies that represent about 70% of meat and poultry production by volume, including Tyson Foods Inc, Smithfield Foods Inc, JBS USA Llc, and Perdue Farms Inc.
The Department of Agriculture is exploring enforcement mechanisms that would allow stronger oversight of child labor use in food supply chains and plans to take future steps on the issue, an agency spokesperson said.
(Reporting by Leah Douglas)