Duvan Robert Tomas Perez, an underage teenager, tragically lost his life while employed as a sanitation worker at the Mar-Jac Poultry plant in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The incident occurred when he became entangled in a machine while cleaning it.
Despite his efforts to free himself, Duvan suffered a fatal injury when he was pulled into the machine, which was still in operation, after his glove got caught. His body was later discovered on a conveyor belt. Mar-Jac promptly informed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the incident, initiating an investigation.
According to the Labor Department, Duvan was underage for employment at the facility. Mar-Jac reported that a hiring agency had provided misleading information about Duvan’s age. Federal regulations mandate that meatpacking workers must be at least 18 years old, considering the inherent hazards of the occupation. Mar-Jac has acknowledged their error in hiring Duvan, recognizing that he was under 18 and should not have been employed.
Within recent years, there has been a notable surge in child labor violations, predominantly involving Guatemalan minors, prompting a federal investigation. Authorities are examining meatpacking and produce companies across 11 states for allegedly employing underage migrant workers.
The Labor Department has recorded a 69% increase in child labor cases since 2018. This increase is particularly observed among Central American teens, who seek employment in the United States due to deteriorating economic conditions in their home countries. These individuals often resort to presenting false documents and stolen identities to secure employment, falsely claiming legal authorization to work in the U.S.
Over the past three years, Mar-Jac Poultry has experienced three accidental deaths and one amputation incident within its facility. OSHA has cited the company for four safety violations in separate incidents during 2020 and 2021. The initial penalties imposed for these violations amount to $52,355, and all three incidents remain unresolved. Firm co-founder and personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio told Telemundo, “The fines that these plants have right now are very small, they average around $20, 30, 50 thousand dollars when someone is injured or dies, which is something that needs to change.”
“Life must be valued more, we need to have fines in the millions so these companies start to change,” added Miguel.