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Labor Violations Rampant at Southern Cotton Gins

Xinjiang isn’t the only cotton-producing region linked to labor issues.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has found eight out of 10 cotton gin employers it investigated in the American Southeast violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) or provisions of the H-2A visa program.

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division identified violations in 81 percent of the 71 cotton gin investigations completed between November 2019 and March 2021 in the Southeast, home to some of the nation’s largest cotton producers. These investigations led the department to recover $282,626 in back wages and $10,785 in liquidated damages for 620 workers. The division also assessed $152,539 in civil money penalties to 37 employers.

Many failed to properly pay overtime and keep accurate records in accordance with FLSA standards, according to the mostly commonly cited violations, which also noted that many employers didn’t disclose actual terms and conditions and provide wage statements to workers. Still others failed to ensure housing safety and health and provide terms and conditions of occupancy as required by MSPA and the H-2A visa program.

Among the employers and recoveries made by the division were $49,918 in wags and/or penalties from Servico Inc., Courtland, Ala.; $12,795 from Sowega Cotton Gin and Warehouse, Climax, Ga.; $26, 202 from Hi Grade Farm Supply, Winona, Miss.; $22,557 from Gates Cotton Gin Inc., Gates, N.C.; Vallentines Gin Inc., Cope, S.C., and ARP Cotton Gin Company LLC, Ripley, Tenn.

“Our investigations show that far too many cotton gin operators are not compliant with federal labor law,” Wage and Hour Division regional administrator Juan Coria said. “The U.S. 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.”

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The Wage and Hour division is engaged in an ongoing education, outreach and enforcement initiative to ensure that the Southeast cotton and agriculture industries operate within federal law. In addition to enforcement, Wage and Hour Division representatives are working with stakeholders to promote better understanding of the laws governing their industry and offering compliance assistance for those seeking to avoid costly violations.

Labor problems recently cropped up elsewhere in the domestic garment supply chain. Last week, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office revoked the license of Los Angeles garment manufacturer VRP Fashion Inc. for providing false information on its license application and repeatedly failing to follow labor laws.