According to the New York Times, the U.S. Department of Labor is investigating meat companies Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms over allegations that migrant children were used to clean slaughterhouses.

The investigation was launched after The New York Times Magazine reported that migrant children worked night shifts for contractors at the companies’ factories on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Children, some as young as 13, were hired by contractors to clean blood, grease and feathers from industrial machinery.

The Times’ investigation focused on Marcos Cox, a 14-year-old who worked the night shift at a Perdue slaughterhouse in Virginia. The then-eighth-grader’s arm was mangled by a conveyor belt last year while he was disinfecting a cutting area.

Representatives for Perdue and Tyson told the Times that the companies were not trying to evade responsibility and would cooperate with the investigation. Both companies said they were unaware that children were working at their facilities in Virginia.

Tyson added that the company employs cleaners directly at 40% of its slaughterhouses and plans to rely less on contractors for cleaning work in the future.

“We recognize the systemic nature of this problem and welcome any role we can play in a solution,” Andrea Staub, a spokeswoman for Perdue, said in a statement to The Times. Staub added that it had hired an outside auditor to propose new guidelines.

Children as young as 13 were reportedly hired by contractors to clean blood, grease and feathers from industrial machinery at Tyson Farms and Perdue Foods facilities.PhotoStock-Israel/Getty Images

In April, the Biden administration sent letters to meat companies urging them to investigate whether child labor is used anywhere in their supply chains and to adopt better standards to protect against illegal child labor.

“We are well past the day when brands can say they don’t know there is child labor in their supply chain,” Seema Nanda, the Labor Department’s general counsel, told The Times on Saturday. “The intent is to ensure that those further up the supply chain hold their subcontractors and staffing agencies accountable.”

According to The Times, the Labor Department also opened investigations into Fayette Industrial and QSI, the contractors that perform cleanup shifts for Purdue and Tyson, respectively. The contractors told the Times they were unaware of the Labor Department investigation and had policies against the use of child labor.

Tyson told the Times that it planned to end its relationship with QSI at several plants, while Perdue said it may end its contract with Fayette.

The Agriculture Department, which regularly sends inspectors to slaughterhouses, told the Times that it would retrain its nearly 8,000 food inspectors to report illegal child labor to the Labor Department. The Times investigation found that food inspectors did not believe it was their duty to report child labor violations, even though they regularly observed minors working in Virginia factories.

“The use of illegal child labor – particularly requiring children to perform dangerous tasks – is inexcusable,” said Allan Rodriguez, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.

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