Federal agents found more than two dozen minors illegally working inside a poultry plant in Kidron, Ohio, earlier this month, according to local immigration advocates who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity.
The children, mainly from Guatemala, according to the advocates, were working in meat processing and sanitation in a plant run by Gerber’s Poultry, which produces Amish Farm Chicken, advertised with the slogan “Better feed, better taste.”
The raid occurred nearly three weeks ago:
Local immigration advocates say agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI surrounded the plant in the early evening of Oct. 4 and shut down traffic into and out of the plant.
NBC News spoke to a current employee — who did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media — who was at the plant the night of the raid and spoke with the FBI agents who were there. The worker said agents arrived around 9:00 p.m. and asked employees for identification, asked about plant sanitation and stayed in the plant most of the night.
What is Gerber’s Amish Farm Chicken?
To my knowledge, I’ve never eaten or really even noticed Gerber’s “Amish Farm Chicken”. So I first thought this may have been another case of “Amish” being attached to a non-Amish product, as is fairly common (either directly called “Amish”, or a more gray-area variant like “Amish Country“).
But no, it turns out this company (at least, according to their website) uses chicken raised in Amish environments:
- Raising chickens natural, antibiotic free, on local Amish farms following the most humane standards.
And also: “The chickens are raised on Amish family farms with plenty of room to roam.” Furthermore, they have this to say about their workers:
- We not only treat our chickens with the highest degree of care but also our workers. Without their kind hearts, hard-work, and integrity we would not be where we are today.
Gerber’s Amish Farm additionally claims to be “100% Faith Based“. I see that term a lot, but I’m not always sure what it means. It looks like the site provides an explanation:
- The faith based verses on the back of our products serve as a constant reminder to do the right thing, same as our parents/grandparents (Melva and Dwight) taught us to do.
- By this faith, we become a company of significance: We matter to our team members, our customers and our suppliers. We become a place where our team members want to work, from whom our customers want to buy product and with whom our suppliers want to do business.
It sounds good, but I’m not sure how these professed values square with employing underage workers. Processing plants have a reputation for being dangerous. I’m not saying the minors in this case were definitely placed in dangerous situations, but it is possible. They’re described as working in both meat processing, and sanitation, at the plant.
On that point, there is this from the NBC report:
Under U.S. labor law, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to work in meatpacking facilities because of the increased risk of injury from dangerous machines and chemicals. A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy was recently killed working in a poultry plant in Mississippi.
NBC News has previously reported on the 69% rise in child labor in the United States since 2018, particularly among Guatemalan youth who have recently migrated and find themselves working in the meatpacking and sanitation of meatpacking plants.
According to immigration advocates involved with the story, some of these minors might have been forced to work by nonrelated adults who were basically exploiting them. Others simply went to work voluntarily to earn for themselves.
“Minors” and “children” at work
People need to earn for themselves, and it is certainly generally OK and good if teenagers work. Teaching the young the importance of work is a core value in Amish culture, for that matter. I myself was happy to get a first paying part-time job at around age 14-15, to earn some spending money. But, fortunately for me, it was yard work, not in a poultry plant.
One note on language. The report uses both the terms “minors” and “children”. There isn’t any information about their precise ages. The word “child” technically can apply to any person under the age of 18, but obviously there is a lot of leeway in who qualifies as a “child”. There is also this detail:
Local resident Dany Ceto, who has relatives who work at the plant, told NBC News he saw the FBI agents surround the plant and at first assumed it was an immigration raid. He said children work at the plant’s second shift because it works with their school schedule.
There is of course a difference between a 17-year-old and an 11-year-old. But it seems to be clear that whatever their exact ages, these young, school-age people were not legally supposed to be working at the plant.
Also, second shift typically ends anywhere from around 11pm to even 1am, which is not exactly optimal for a young person attending school. I guess we’ll get further details.
If I sound cynical, it’s because on matters like this, I am. “Amish” sells, and so do thing like “faith-based” and “family values” attached to a product.
Lots of things are now sold under those banners – even things you wouldn’t immediately think to be associated with those ideas. Just like with other products, they’re marketed using those terms because they appeal to a particular target audience.
Maybe the company has a lot to recommend it. It sounds like they produce good chicken. But this discovery certainly calls into question at least some of what’s professed on its website.