US blueberry farms accused of using child labour

2 November 2009

An ABC News investigation has discovered children as young as five years old working on blueberry farms in Michigan, USA.

The farms were supplying blueberries to Wal-Mart, the biggest US retailer, as well as top grocery chains Kroger and Meijer. All three retailers have suspended buying produce from Adkin Blue Ribbon Bluberry Co., the company that runs the farms, pending their own investigations.

The ABC investigation included pictures of a five-year-old girl carrying two heavy buckets of blueberries picked by her two brothers, aged seven and eight years old. An 11-year-old boy told reporters that he had worked on the farm for three years.

Spot checks carried out by the U.S. Department of Labor in July this year led to eight out of 35 farms in Michigan being fined for violations of child labour and migrant housing laws.

Federal law does not allow children younger than 12 to work on farms. Children aged 12 to 13 years old are permitted to have non-hazardous farm jobs outside of school hours if they work on the same farm as their parents or with written parental consent. In all other industries the minimum age is 14 years old.

Fruit pickers are typically paid by the bucket and low wages result in many parents bringing their children to work to increase the amount of fruit they can pick.

The investigation also revealed that children on the farms work very long hours and are exposed to widespread use of pesticides which can cause serious health conditions.

Anti-Slavery’s Supply Chain Project Co-ordinator, Joanna Ewart-James, said: ”Hopefully the retailers’ investigations will lead to improved monitoring of working conditions in their supply chains. This case also shows the pressures that children can face if their parents are not paid a living wage.”