• The US Department of Labor is investigating the exploitation of children in the poultry industry.
  • The news follows a New York Times report about migrant kids being hired by contractors.
  • Perdue Farms told Insider it plans to “cooperate fully” with any federal investigation.

The US Department of Labor is investigating two of the largest companies in the domestic poultry industry following a report that some of their contractors are employing migrant children.

On Monday, The New York Times Magazine published an investigation that showed kids as young as 14 were knowingly employed as overnight cleaning staff at plants run by companies like Perdue Farms and Tyson Foods. Some were gravely injured on jobs they never should have had under federal law.

There has been a dramatic increase in reports of child labor — and workplace accidents involving kids. Over the summer, a 16-year-old in Wisconsin was killed after he became trapped in a sawmill conveyor; another 16-year-old got trapped in a conveyor at a poultry farm in Mississippi and died of injuries.

Overall, the Department of Labor said it had seen a 69% increase in illegal child labor over the previous five years.

Work in animal agriculture is particularly hazardous. The Times reported that children have been both maimed by equipment and severely burned by industrial cleaning agents. And while those children are working in plants owned by some of the biggest brands, the Times noted that companies have been able to claim some plausible deniability by outsourcing work to contractors that can take the blame for any legal violations.

On Saturday, Seema Nanda, the US solicitor of labor, said she is examining whether companies can be held liable for contractors’ labor practices.

“We are long past the day when brands can say that they don’t know that they have child labor in their supply chain,” Nanda told the Times. “The intention is to make sure that those higher up in the supply chain are holding their subcontractors and staffing agencies accountable.”

Tyson Foods did not respond to a request for comment from Insider. But a spokesperson for Perdue Farms said the company stands ready to show that it has “strict, longstanding policies in place” to prevent minors from working in hazardous conditions and that it holds its contractors to the same standards. It has also begun a third-party audit of its child labor policies, the spokesperson said.

“We will take appropriate actions based on the findings of that investigation,” the spokesperson said. And while the company has “not been notified” of a federal investigation, we “plan to cooperate fully with any government inquiry on this matter.”