Human Interest Slaughterhouse Cleaning Firm Fined After Officials Say More Than 100 Children Worked Dangerous Jobs Over 100 children were illegally employed to handle hazardous chemicals and equipment, leading some minors to suffer work-related injuries, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) said By Alexis Jones Alexis Jones Alexis Jones is a writer-reporter at PEOPLE. She has been working at PEOPLE since 2022. Her work has previously appeared on Daily Bruin. People Editorial Guidelines Published on February 18, 2023 03:23 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Josh Funk/AP/Shutterstock The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has fined one of the nation's largest food safety sanitation services providers for illegally employing more than 100 children to work under dangerous conditions. After beginning their investigation in August 2022, the DOL said in a statement issued this week that they found Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI) had 102 children ages 13 to 17 operating hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment such as back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. Working throughout 13 facilities across Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee and Texas, three of the children employed suffered injuries while working for PSSI, the DOL 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," Principal Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, Jessica Looman, said in the statement. "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." Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories. Back in November, the Solicitor's Office filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska based on evidence that the company employed at least 31 children to clean dangerous powered equipment during overnight shifts in the U.S. plants of protein company, JBS Foods, who contracted PSSI for their cleaning services, said. Josh Funk/AP/Shutterstock In response, U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gerrard issued a temporary restraining order the next day, prohibiting the company and its employees from violating child labor laws. On Dec. 6, 2022, the U.S. District Court of Nebraska entered a consent order and judgement, which binds the employer to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act's child labor provisions in all of its operations across the nation. "Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services' systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags," said Wage and Hour Regional Administrator Michael Lazzeri. "When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with warrants, the adults — who had recruited, hired, and supervised these children — tried to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices." As a result of these findings, PSSI paid $1,544,076 million in fines on Thursday — the maximum civil penalties allowed by federal law. George Clooney 'Saddened' That Nespresso Reportedly Used Coffee from Farms Utilizing Child Labor "Make no mistake, this is no clerical error, or actions of rogue individuals or bad managers," Looman said, according to the Associated Press. "These findings represent a systemic failure across PSSI's entire organization to ensure that children were not working in violation of the law. PSSI's systems in many cases flagged that these children were too young to work, and yet they were still employed at these facilities." On Friday, PSSI's vice president of marketing, Gina Swenson, said in a statement that the company has "a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18," according to the AP. Per the outlet, Swenson said PSSI conducted audits and hired an outside law firm to bolster its policies as soon as the company was made aware of the allegations. She said PSSI has also conducted additional training for hiring managers, which includes spotting identity theft. None of the minors still work for PSSI, and Swenson added that the Labor Department "has also not identified any managers aware of improper conduct that are currently employed" by the company. "The Department of Labor has made it absolutely clear that violations of child labor laws will not be tolerated," said Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. "No child should ever be subject to the conditions found in this investigation. The courts have upheld the department's rightful authority to execute federal court-approved search warrants and compelled this employer to change their hiring practices to ensure compliance with the law. Let this case be a powerful reminder that all workers in the United States are entitled to the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act and that an employer who violates wage laws will be held accountable."