When federal Judge John M. Gerrard put his signature on a six-page Consent Order and Judgment on Dec. 6, 2022, it was a win for the U.S. Department of Labor in a child labor case against Packers Sanitation Services.

But as it turned out, that child labor case has apparently captured the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, which now suspects human trafficking may be the root cause of the child labor case in Grand Island, NE.

Human trafficking is second only to the thousands upon thousands of fentanyl deaths as an outcome of leaving the southern border open. By coincidence, both the U.S. State Department and the White House are marking this January as Human Trafficking Prevention Month, noting the 27.6 million worldwide human trafficking cases now being experienced.

One of those may be Nebraska’s child labor case, where youths were hired by Parkers Sanitation Services to work at night clearing the JBS meat plant at Grand Island. Homeland’s suspicion that the child labor used at the JBS plant was actually child trafficking came after Judge Gerrard signed the order.

Among the commitments the defendant Packers Sanitation Services makes in the order are:

— The defendant shall impose sanctions, including termination and/or suspension, upon any management personnel responsible for child labor violations after the date of this Order.

— Within 45 days after the entry of this Consent Order and Judgment, Defendant shall notify the Department of Labor of each individual younger than 18 years of age whose employment was terminated after the date of the entry of this Consent Order and Judgment.

— Plaintiff specifically reserves the right to investigate Defendant’s future compliance with the terms of this Consent Judgment and any subsequent claims of Defendant employing oppressive child labor.

— Defendant agrees that it shall not take any retaliatory action against any of its employees, including family members of minor children employed by Defendant, in violation of 29 U.S.C. §215(a)(3) of the FLSA because an employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to the FLSA, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee.

— Prohibited retaliatory action, includes but is not limited to, reporting or threatening to report, directly or indirectly, any such individual to law enforcement agencies based on their actual or perceived immigration status, or initiating an internal I-9 audit or another verification process for the purpose of retaliating against workers. It shall not be considered a retaliatory action to terminate any individual who is determined to be a minor on the basis, in whole or in part, of a review of company-maintained documentation or otherwise.

The Consent order does not mean the Department of Labor cannot continue to investigate, which likely means Homeland Security can continue its work as well.

Texas, which has rolled out a “Stop Human Trafficking” specialty license plate this month, wants to raise public awareness “about the horrific exploitation of men, women, and children” that is occurring across the country.

At the Nebraska slaughterhouse, Homeland Security is trying to find out if the children from the Department of Labor case were forced to work at the JBS plant, perhaps to pay off debts to traffickers. The Labor Department found 31 children as young as 13 working at five plants serviced by Packers Sanitation. The area involved ran from Grand Island, NE, to Worthington, MN. Some overnight crew members reported getting burns from cleaning chemicals.

No one younger than the age of 18 is permitted o operate or clean power-driven meat processing machines.

The number of migrant children involved is what caused Homeland to investigate.

JBS has ended its contract for labor services with Packers Sanitation.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)