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14 Feb 2024

USA: Private auditors fail to detect child labour in supply chains of major supermarkets & renowned food brands

In December 2023, the New York Times reported on the failure of private auditors to detect migrant children working in the food supply chains of several large companies in the USA.

In dozens of interviews, auditors said that sometimes their firms provide little more than a veneer of compliance for global corporations, which overstate how rigorously they review sprawling supply chains.
Hannah Dreier, The New York Times.

The article alleges auditors fail to detect child labour due to several factors, including moving too quickly, leaving too early, or not reviewing the part of the plant where minors work. The article also highlights how auditors' reliance on paperwork rather than in-depth worker interviews leads to the failure to detect child labour as children may use forged documents.

Auditors allege they also struggle to record labour rights violations due to the pressure from the auditing firms that pay them, the companies reviewing the inspection, and the suppliers themselves. For example, an auditor for UL Solutions, which provides social compliance audits, said he was placed on a remediation plan after failing Walgreen suppliers for abusive working conditions.

The article alleges migrant children were:

  • Working in the supply chains of Walgreens’ supplier Monogram Meat Snacks.
  • Working at Packers Sanitation Services, which provides cleaning services to plants supplying to McDonalds and Costco.
  • Working at a Mississippi slaughterhouse that supplies to Chick-Fil-A.
  • Working in the snack food factory Hearthside Food Solutions, supplying to baby food company Gerber, the makers of Starburst and Skittles candies (Mars Food Services), the makers of Oreos (Mondelēz International), and the makers of Cheez-Its (Kellanova).
  • Working in dairies supplying to milk processor Darigold, which supplies to Costco, McDonalds, Nestle, and Safeway. Here, the article emphasises companies' failure to detect child labour in sub-suppliers in industrial farms.

In the above instances, audits run by companies at the top of supply chains failed to detect child labour. The article also highlights how auditors' reports flag issues relating to age verification. An auditor representing Walgreens found there was no way to verify the ages of workers at a supplier – the factory also supplies to Sysco, Hefty, and Walmart. The staffing agency used by the factory is allegedly now under investigation for possible child labour violations.

Costco, Darigold, Gerber, Kellanova, Mars, McDonalds, Hearthside Food Production, Hefty, Mondelēz International, Monogram Meat Snacks, Nestlé, Packers Sanitation Services, Safeway, Sysco, UL Solutions, and Walgreens responded to the journalists’ requests for comment.

In January 2024, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre invited Chick-Fil-A, Costco, Darigold, Gerber, Kellanova, Mars Food Services, McDonald’s, Mondelēz International, Monogram Meat Snacks, Nestlé, Packers Sanitation Services, Reynold’s Consumer Products (the makers of Hefty), Safeway (part of Albertsons), Sysco, UL Solutions, Walgreens, and Walmart to respond to the article’s findings.

We also additionally asked the companies at the top of supply chains where child labour was discovered in suppliers, including Chick-Fil-A, Costco, Darigold, Gerber, Kellanova, Mars Food Services, McDonald’s, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, Safeway (part of Albertsons), and Walgreens, to disclose the steps they have taken to investigate and remedy workers for the abuse reported, and to disclose any human rights due diligence they undertake prior to entering into contracts with suppliers and when monitoring working conditions at suppliers.

We also invited the social auditing company, UL Solutions, to disclose the steps it takes to detect child labour through its audits at factories in the USA.

Darigold, Gerber, Hearthside, Kellanova, McDonald's, Nestlé, Packers Sanitation Services, Reynolds Consumer Products, Safeway (part of Albertsons), UL Solutions', Mondelēz International, and Walgreens' responses can be read in full below. Chick-Fil-A, Costco, Mars Food Services, Monogram Meat Snacks, Sysco, and Walmart's did not respond to the Resource Centre's request for comment.

In February 2024, a blog published by the International Labor Rights Forum further explores the inefficacy of audits to detect labour rights abuse, and provides four alternative methods, including paying living wages and providing decent working conditions; employing workers directly; enacting policies that provide for the right to decent work and 'labour citizenship'; and by investors and buyers making sourcing decisions based on the presence of unions and collective bargaining agreements.


Kellanova (formerly Kellogg) Antwort anzeigen

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Monogram Foods

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Packers Sanitation Service (PSSI) Antwort anzeigen

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Walgreens (part of Walgreens Boots Alliance) Antwort anzeigen
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Hearthside Food Solutions Antwort anzeigen