"I would appreciate hearing from you regarding Blackstone and PSSI's plan to eliminate any improper dependence on child labor, as well as its plan to implement strict measures that would prevent this from occurring in the future," said Mr. DiNapoli's March 8 letter to Stephen A. Schwarzman, Blackstone's CEO; Jonathan Gray, president and chief operating officer; and Joseph Baratta, senior managing director and global head of private equity.
"We believe both are vital to avoid any further financial and reputational harm to the company which could result from this situation," said the letter, which Mr. DiNapoli's office provided to Pensions & Investments.
On Feb. 17, the Department of Labor reported that PSSI "employed at least 102 children — from 13 to 17 years of age — in hazardous occupations and had them working overnight shifts at 13 meat processing facilities in eight states," according to a DOL news release announcing the civil penalties. DOL described the aggregate penalty as the maximum allowed by federal law.
The DOL investigation "found that children were working with hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. Investigators learned at least three minors suffered injuries while working for PSSI," the news release said.
The DOL and the company agreed to a consent order filed Dec. 6 in a U.S. District Court in Lincoln, Neb., by which the "defendant will review and enhance its existing policies and training materials for all employees that relate to compliance with the child labor provisions" of federal law.
A spokesman for Blackstone wrote in an email that "PSSI has an absolute zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and is fully committed to ensuring it is enforced all local plants." He added that Blackstone has responded to Mr. DiNapoli's letter.
"As soon as we became aware of the DOL's allegations, we conducted multiple additional audits of our employee base, and hired a third-party law firm to review and help further strengthen our policies in this area," a PSSI spokeswoman wrote in an email. "Our company has a strong corporate commitment to our zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18, and fully shares the DOL's objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations."