(FiveNation.com)- Investigators from the Department of Homeland Security are looking into whether 50 children who were illegally employed as cleaners at a Midwest slaughterhouse were victims of labor trafficking, according to a report from NBC News.
NBC reported last week that three DHS officials confirmed that agents from Homeland Security Investigations have interviewed the children, some as young as 13, who worked as cleaners at a JBS Foods slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska.
While DHS does not appear to be investigating Packers Sanitation Services, Inc. (PSSI), the company that hired the children, for human trafficking, two of the DHS officials told NBC that DHS wants to rule out the possibility that outside traffickers could have forced the children to work for PSSI as a way to profit off of their labor.
In a statement to NBC News, a spokesperson for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Homeland Security Investigations cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. The ICE spokesperson referred NBC to the Department of Labor.
In December, PSSI agreed to a consent order with the Labor Department and agreed to abide by child labor laws after a civil suit was filed against the company by the government. Investigators from the Labor Department found a total of 50 children working for PSSI in at least five separate locations, including the Grand Island slaughterhouse and a second JBS Foods plant in Minnesota.
Labor officials argued that PSSI violated the Fair Labor Standards Act which prohibits “oppressive child labor” and the use of minors in jobs that are deemed hazardous. Child Labor Regulations from the Department of Labor deem many jobs in slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities as hazardous for minors.
PSSI did not deny hiring children but claimed their employment was due to “rogue individuals” presenting false identification along with Social Security numbers verified by the government’s E-Verify system, according to court filings.
The Department of Labor told NBC News that its investigation into PSSI which began in August is ongoing.