Officials Probe Commune After Illegal Child Labor Claims

Posted at 3:43 PM, Jun 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-05 15:43:47-04

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. (AP) – Video purporting to show a 6-year-old old boy picking potatoes at a farm run by a religious community and other children working at the group’s high-end cosmetics factory has prompted an investigation by New York state labor officials.

The state’s labor commissioner said the department will investigate the Twelve Tribes community in Cambridge, New York, after the TV show "Inside Edition" aired hidden camera footage appearing to show child labor. The show said Common Sense Farm packages cosmetics for companies like Acure and Savannah Bee that are sold by major retailers.

A former worker wore a hidden camera and pretended to go back to work in the commune near the Vermont border. She was filmed talking to children in the factory who said they were 11 and 10. A producer filmed what the syndicated show said was a 6-year-old boy struggling to push a wheelbarrow and pick potatoes.

They also filmed an adult who explained that they beat the children with thin bamboo rods as a form of discipline.

"The public has put its trust in our agency to protect New York’s workers," labor commissioner Roberta Reardon said Monday in a prepared statement announcing the investigation, "and of all the labor violations we see, those against children are some of the most abhorrent."

In a statement released Tuesday, the community said children occasionally spend time with their parents in the shop on the farm where they live. "Likening those moments to oppressive industrial child labor that happens in 3rd world countries, not only takes them out of context but is also sadly inaccurate," Robert Racine of the community wrote.

Racine said Acure Organics and Savannah Bee "did the necessary inspections to be assured their products were made with integrity and under the governing laws of this land."

The Post-Star of Glens Falls reports that the commune owns a 112-acre farm in Cambridge and maintains dozens of other communities around the world.

A website for the group said its members "follow the pattern of the early church" as described in the New Testament as "all the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had."

Acure said it would stop doing business with the factory. There was no immediate comment Tuesday from Savannah Bee.

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