Children as young as nine have been found working in New York soap factory packing products sold at Whole Foods, Target and Wal-Mart.
The factory is owned and operated by Twelve Tribes, a religious sect branded a ‘cult’ by many and whose alleged racist teachings and strict child-discipline policy has landed it in controversy in the past.
Former ‘cult’ member Sarah Williams, 34, agreed to go undercover to expose the child labor exploitation at the Cambridge, New York, commune for Inside Edition.
Children as young as nine have been found working in New York soap factory packing products sold at Whole Foods, Target and Wal-Mart
A nine-year-old boy and ten-year-old girl were seen working in other parts of the factory
Wearing a hidden camera, Williams – who was born at the commune – captured shocking footage of young children being forced to work in the soap packing factory.
An 11-year-old girl was recorded working on the assembly line, while a nine-year-old boy and ten-year-old girl were seen working in other parts of the factory.
Another video, filmed by an undercover Inside Edition producer, showed a six-year-old boy picking potatoes in a field at a farm run by Twelve Tribes.
Footage shows the youngster struggling with a wheelbarrow before falling over.
A Twelve Tribes adult member explained how they keep their children ‘under control’
‘If a child isn’t under control they can’t be taught. It takes training. It takes a rod of authority,’ he told the undercover producer. ‘It takes them being disciplined and spanked when they’re not obedient.’
Another video, filmed by an undercover Inside Edition producer, showed a six-year-old boy picking potatoes in a field at a farm run by Twelve Tribes
Footage shows the youngster struggling with a wheelbarrow
Moments later he falls over, unable to carry the weight of the wheelbarrow
In other footage, the ‘rods of authority’ – bamboo canes – can be seen hanging in the communal bedroom. Former members have said that the canes are used on children for any disobedience – however small.
Former member Shuah Jones, 30, said: ‘There are spankings and there are beatings.
‘A beating is when you take all the force that is in your arms and you whip with that rod until your arm is literally tired.’
In the factory, which produces soaps and skincare products for brands like Acure and Savannah Bee, which are sold at major retailers like Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, and Wal-Mart.
When questioned about their use of child labor, a Twelve Tribes leader denied using ‘children in factories.’
‘We don’t have factories,’ he told Inside Edition, despite being informed the outlet had video footage of the contrary. ‘We don’t use child labor.’
The factory is owned and operated by Twelve Tribes, a religious sect branded a ‘cult’ by many and whose alleged racist teachings and strict child-discipline policy has landed it in controversy in the past
When questioned about their use of child labor, a Twelve Tribes leader denied using ‘children in factories’
The leader also denied allegations of child abuse.
‘We don’t hurt our children, we love our children.’
Acure called the conditions shown in the footage ‘abhorrent’ and says it has stopped doing all business with the upstate New York factory.
Savannah Bee says its manufacturer has confirmed it follows all labor regulations.
On the retail side, Target confirmed it was investigating as did Wal-Mart which also stated it had now blocked all Acure products from the website during the probe.
Amazon and Whole Foods declined to comment to Inside Edition.
This is not the first time the religious sect has been accused of illegally using underage children as workers in their factories.
They were fined just $2,000 in 2001 for breaching child labor laws, the New York Post reported.
The New York Labor Department found a 15-year-old child working at a Twelve Tribes-run candle manufacturing plant in Greene County; and another 15-year-old was discovered working in a a nearby furniture factory run by the sect.
Twelve Tribes members argued at the time that they were not running sweat shops but cottage industries where the kids help their parents.
Twelve Tribes, led by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, has chapters across the US and all over the world.
But it’s had its fair share of controversy. In September 2013, German police raided two communities in Bavaria and removed 40 children after a documentary showed kids being abused.
Prospective members are expected to give up their job, home and all their possessions before entering the sect.
The full investigation airs on Inside Edition later this week.