Meatpacking giant JBS USA is bringing its sanitation work in-house after one of its former contractors, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., was fined by the Labor Department for child labor violations.
The company and its poultry processing subsidiary, Pilgrim's Pride, announced Wednesday that both will immediately start transitioning sanitation responsibilities at 10 facilities to JBS Sanitation, a new sanitation arm.
“In light of the troubling allegations that have occurred in the food sanitation sector, JBS USA has made the decision to create a company that can provide the highest levels of food safety and quality assurance, while also adopting the same high standards for compliance and employment verification that we adhere to in the hiring of our own JBS USA workforce,” JBS USA CEO Wesley Batista Filho said in a press release Wednesday.
Packers Sanitation Services Inc., which formerly cleaned plants for Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods and five other companies, was fined $1.5 million earlier this year after the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division found it had employed at least 102 children in hazardous jobs.
The agency said children between the ages of 13 and 17 were working with "hazardous" chemicals and equipment like back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. At least three minors suffered injuries during their employment.
JBS Sanitation, the company's new sanitation provider, will be overseen by Wilson Herrera, who was appointed as the company's president. Al Almanza, a 40-year veteran of USDA's food safety work and current head of food safety and quality assurance for JBS Global, will be the head of technical services for JBS Sanitation.
The new in-house sanitation entity will also partner with the United Food and Commerical Workers International Union to offer "competitive wages and benefits," JBS USA said in a release. Marc Perrone, UFCW's international president, said it was "heartening to see JBS USA’s willingness to proactively move to address" the use of child labor by one of its subcontractors.
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"We firmly believe that a strong union contract is the solution to the exploitation of any workers in the industry and are pleased to be partnering with JBS USA on in-house sanitation at a number of facilities across the country, which means sanitation workers will now receive the strong wages, benefits, and protections as other union members in those facilities," he said in a release.
JBS said it would only utilize the services of third-party sanitation providers if they met JBS's employment verification standards or could verify compliance through a JBS-approved auditor.
The company said it has also created an internal whistleblower hotline for employees to use to report suspicious activity regarding underage workers. Local school districts have also been provided a phone number to confidentiality report suspected child labor incidents, JBS said in the release.
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