Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
April 2, 2024 ·  4 min read

A Company Illegally Hired a 13-Year-Old. Her Family is Paying the Price.

It seems we, as a nation, have gone back in time to a more primitive time when people had fewer rights. Debates such as Women’s abortion and gay rights have been recalled into question. Furthermore, and possibly the most upsetting, some states are becoming more lenient with their child labor laws. With some facing hot water after it came to light that in 8 different states, there have been more than 100 children reportedly working in slaughterhouses.

History of Child Labor Laws

In the US, prior to the late 1930’s child labor wasn’t uncommon. In fact, child labor played a huge part in the workforce prior to the Industrial Revolution. Then the Great Famine of Ireland saw a need for “all hands, on deck” resulting in an increase of child labor. Less than 100 years later, families relied on every household member to contribute, so it wasn’t uncommon in the US for child labor to exist during the Great Depression. Although child labor has since been outlawed in many countries, some as early as the 18th century (1700’s), it’s not uncommon in developing countries.

The Child Labor Case

The Labor Department discovered minors had been hired to do Packers Sanitation’s dirty work, literally. 102 children, ages 13-17, have been hired in meat packing plants across eight states for night shifts. As a result, Packers Sanitation has been fined more than $1 million. The company based out of Wisconsin was charged with exposing minors to harsh and toxic chemicals and dangerous machinery. Thus far, it’s been reported that at least 3 of those minors have sustained injuries due to the nature of the job and harsh working conditions.

The states who participated in child labor are Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Colorado, and Arkansas. More than half had been hired between 2 companies, JBS Foods with 27 and Cargill Inc. with 26 “employees“. The rest of the child labor took place in well-known plants such as Greater Omaha Packing Co Inc, Maple Leaf Farms, George’s Inc, Buckhead Meat of Minnesota, Turkey Valley Farms, Tyson Food, and Gibbon Packing Co.

In a press release it was disclosed that one of the minors who sustained injuries including chemical burns, was also reported to have missed schooling and fallen asleep in class. The 14-year-old from Nebraska worked the night shift from 11 pm-5 am, 5-6 days a week. Additionally, one 13-year-old girl’s family is facing deportation. Meanwhile, other parents are facing possible jail time as a result of allowing their children to participate in child labor.

Rightly Earned Penalties

The Department of Labor settled on a fine of around $15,000 fine for each minor involved in child labor. The total fine equaling around $1.5 million in “civil penalties.” The Labor Department’s principal deputy admin, Jessica Looman said, “The child labor violations in this case were systemic and reached across eight states, and clearly indicate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels.” Continuing, “These children should never have been employed in meat packing plants and this can only happen when employers do not take responsibility to prevent child labor violations from occurring in the first place.”

With Reid Maki, director of child labor issues, stating” “Now there are states that want to go back toward that direction to deal with labor shortages by using teens, even to the extent of placing them in dangerous work environments – [it] doesn’t make sense. It’s disregarding their welfare.”

Republican lawmakers have been pushing for more leniency regarding child labor laws. Moreover, with states like Arkansas becoming more laxed, it’s unsurprising that in 2022, there was a 37% increase in child labor law violations, nationwide. Reports of nearly 700 children have been forced to work in dangerous conditions, around dangerous materials, or long nighttime hours in between going to school during the day.


It’s crazy to think there might be pros to child labor, but there is something to consider. When we think of minors and children, we often imagine young and tiny children. However, a key demographic is those aged 13-17, or teenagers. It’s never been unusual for high school students to pick up an after-school job. They can use their own funds to pay for things like gas, outings with friends, or the holidays. Arguably, that first job is a huge milestone, helping to build confidence, independence, and a sense of responsibility.

Major Downsides of Child Labor

The downside, as evident in this situation, is when there are relaxed guidelines that don’t ensure children’s best interests. Working nights between school is grueling and will likely cause long-term health problems. Our brains need rest to stay healthy and improve memory and cognitive skills. Particularly so, during adolescence. Therefore, it’s easy to see how restrictions on time devoted to a job, or the hours in which a child is allowed to work, affect academic performance and overall physical well-being. Furthermore, when children are exposed to harsh chemicals and dangerous materials, not only does is their safety in question in that moment, but their future may also be riddled with health problems such as lung cancer.

Lastly, most parents hope for their children to get the best education, to be happy, and to have fun. This is particularly true during their fleeting childhood. Life is difficult and most parents would argue children shouldn’t be working. Instead, they should be having fun and enjoying their youth.

Keep Reading: A Simple ‘Test’ can Help Identify Potentially Abusive Partners Early in a Relationship.


  1. Over 100 children illegally employed by US Slaughterhouse cleaning firm.” The Guardian. Maya Yang. February 17, 2023.
  2. Federal officials say more than 100 children worked in dangerous jobs for slaughterhouse cleaning firm.” NBC News. Laura Strickler and Julia Ainsley. February 17, 2023.
  3. Company hired same child twice to clean slaughterhouses, internal document shows. NBC News. Laura Strickler and Julia Ainsley. February 23, 2023.