An investigation of US cotton gins has identified 81% of the 71 cotton gin employers that were investigated between November 2019 and March 2021, violated labour laws within the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), or the provisions within the H-2A visa program.
“Our investigations show that far too many cotton gin operators are not compliant with federal labor law,” explained Wage and Hour Division Regional Administrator Juan Coria in Atlanta.
The investigation focused on the Southeast region of the US, which is home to some of the country’s largest cotton producers and found three main cotton gin employer violations:
- Failure to pay proper overtime and maintain accurate records as required by the FLSA.
- Failure to disclose actual terms and conditions and provide wage statements to workers.
- Failure to ensure housing safety and health and provide terms and conditions of occupancy as required by MSPA and the H-2A visa program.
The investigation has led to the recovery of US$282,626 in back wages as well as $10,785 in liquidated damages for 620 workers. Plus, the division assessed $152,539 in civil money penalties to 37 employers.
The cotton gins named as breaking labour laws by the US Department of Labor
The US Department of Labor revealed the names of six of the cotton gin employers where recoveries were made in an official statement.
|Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse||Climax||Georgia||$12,795|
|Hi Grade Farm Supply||Winona||Mississippi||$26,202|
|Gates Cotton Gin Inc.||Gates||North Carolina||$25,557|
|Vallentines Gin Inc.||Cope||South Carolina||$16,127|
|ARP Cotton Gin Company LLC||Ripley||Tennessee||$3,939|
The cotton gin employers and the National Cotton Ginners Association has not replied to Just Style’s request for comment prior to publication.
Coria explained: “The US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division maintains a dogged commitment to ensure that cotton gin workers receive all of their hard earned wages as well as the worker protections they are due. We encourage employers and stakeholders in the ginning industry to review their policy and practices and contact us to request compliance assistance.”
The division is operating an ongoing education, outreach and enforcement initiative to ensure the Southeast cotton and agriculture industries abide by federal law.
Wage and Hour Division representatives are also working with stakeholders to explain the laws governing the industry and offer compliance assistance for those seeking to avoid costly violations.
The division explains it has a number of resources available, including an agriculture compliance assistance toolkit, to provide employers the information they need to comply with the law.
The results from this US cotton gin investigation have been revealed less than a month (23 December 2021) since US President Joe Biden signed a bill to ban the import of all goods from the Xinjiang region of China, following claims of forced labour in the region.