By Tom Polansek
(Reuters) – Tyson Foods workers and activists rallied outside the U.S. meat company’s headquarters in Arkansas on Monday to protest the industry’s use of child labor and push for improved working conditions in processing plants.
Activists and the Biden Administration have pressured the U.S. meat industry to adopt safer labor policies after children hired by contractors were found doing dangerous jobs cleaning slaughterhouses.
Dozens of protesters marched near Tyson’s offices in Springdale, Arkansas, with signs saying “Stop child labor” and “Let children be children.” They chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, exploitation’s gotta go,” according to a livestream of the event on Facebook.
Tyson, the biggest U.S. meat company by sales, had no immediate comment on the protest. The company’s code of conduct says suppliers are expected to ensure they do not use child labor.
Magaly Licolli, an organizer of the rally, said Tyson needs to do more to keep kids out of its supply chain.
“Tyson keeps avoiding the subject by saying that they are not hiring directly the workers,” said Licolli, the director of Venceremos, an organization that advocates for poultry workers in Arkansas.
Licolli said she helped two teenage boys from Guatemala recover wages after they were hired by a contractor to gather chickens on a farm that supplied Tyson and were not initially paid. Tyson did not comment on the incident.
The U.S. Department of Labor said in February that a major food safety sanitation company paid $1.5 million in penalties for employing more than 100 teenagers at meatpacking plants, including two Tyson facilities in Arkansas and Tennessee.
Asked about child labor in meat plants on Monday, the Labor Department said its Wage and Hour Division has investigations open at Tyson and Perdue Farms.
Demonstrators at the rally also called on Tyson to slow speeds on processing lines in chicken plants, carrying a banner that read “Slow down the line, keep workers in mind.”
(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Rod Nickel)