Finding Baboons and Children in the Workplace

May 29 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway

A rail company once employed a baboon who was paid twenty cents a day and half a bottle of beer each week. This was in 1881. In 2022, a company was exposed for and admitted to employing children to perform one of the most dangerous jobs in slaughterhouse plants.

James "Jumper" Wide, a Cape Town-Port Elizabeth Railway Service signalman, got his nickname because he frequently jumped between moving railcars. Performing this dangerous act finally caught up to him when he fell and lost both legs. Still needing work and mobility being an issue now, in 1881 he purchased and trained a Chacma baboon, Jack, to push his wheelchair and eventually operate the signals on the railways under his supervision.1 After the railway assessed Jack's competency, he was hired, and the interesting compensation package began. Policeman with police dog standing in front of police car with open door Widely reported, Jack never made a single mistake during these nine years of employment before he died in 1890.

Children and animal usage in work were common. While animals are still used today in many aspects of our lives (law enforcement, agriculture, film, etc.) here in the United States, Congress passed the child labor law in 1938.

Revealed in a 60 Minutes episode in April 2023, PSSI (Packers Sanitation Services Incorporated), the nation's largest slaughterhouse cleaning contractor, was confirmed to have employed 102 children ranging in ages from 13-17 to work overnight shifts performing dangerous services of removing blood and cleaning sharp equipment used in the slaughter process at thirteen plants in eight states. Recently settling a lawsuit brought by the DOL (Department of Labor), PPSI "did not dispute the finding that it hired children. PSSI promised not to do so in the future and agreed to regular audits. The company paid the maximum fine of $1.5 million&hellips;" The DOL also stated that the number of children employed was likely "much higher" than the 102 they could confirm.

While, in general, we have evolved in our thinking and practices, that doesn't make us immune to poor decisions today. Let us not fall into a false sense of comfort, where we perceive the inconceivable would never make their way into today's workplaces, when in fact, they occasionally still do. Be brave to call them out when you see them. It might be an uncomfortable or thankless task, but you are doing the right thing, and that is precisely what is needed to keep our values.

"Never, never be afraid to do what's right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake." — Martin Luther King Jr.

"If we can't begin to agree on fundamentals, such as the elimination of the most abusive forms of child labor, then we really are not ready to march forward into the future." — Alexis Herman

"It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong." — Thomas Sowell

Source 1: Jack (baboon). In Wikipedia.

Source 2: CBS News (2023, May 7),From stakeouts to warrants: How federal investigators found more than 100 children cleaning slaughterhouses

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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