State finds ‘multiple’ child labor law violations at Twelve Tribes Farm
Inside Edition first exposed potential child workers at Cambridge cosmetics factory
Updated 7:23 am, Wednesday, June 6, 2018
CAMBRIDGE — The state Labor Department found multiple violations of state child labor laws at the Common Sense Farm in Washington County after visiting the Twelve Tribes commune on Monday following an “Inside Edition” expose.
The potential violations involved 12 minors and fines from the cases could reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Every child under the age of 18 in this state has a right to be protected by the Child Labor Law, and we take our enforcement responsibilities seriously,” state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement. “Children are our most valuable asset and compliance with the Child Labor Law is not discretionary. It’s mandatory.”
“Inside Edition” ran its blockbuster TV report last Friday in which it used hidden camera video to show underage children working at the Twelve Tribes cosmetics packaging factory in Cambridge.
Twelve Tribes is a Christian religious sect that operates a farm and commune in Cambridge called the Common Sense Farm.
The group has come under suspicion for child labor violations in the past and is best known for its eclectic chain of bohemian-style cafes called the Yellow Deli that have locations in places like Oneonta, Oak Hill and Rutland, Vt.
“Inside Edition” says it had a former Twelve Tribes member, Sarah Williams, visit the factory in Cambridge with an undercover camera videotaping the episode.
In the video posted online by Inside Edition, Williams is seen talking to a girl next to an assembly line. Williams asks her age, and her dad appears to try and put her at ease.
“She’s not Secret Service,” the dad tells the girl on the video. “She’s not Child Labor.”
The girl says she is 10.
“Inside Edition” says that Common Sense Farm packages cosmetics products like Acure and Savannah Bee that are sold by retailers like Whole Foods, Amazon, Target and Walmart.
Acure, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says it is no longer contracting with Greener Formulas, a corporate entity tied to Common Sense Farm that does contract work for companies like Acure.
Greener Formulas has two Cambridge facilities, according to Quality Assurance International, or QAI, which is an organic certifying agency for the USDA.
One production facility is located at the 7 Pearl St. and the other is located at 41 North Union St. on the Common Sense Farm property, according to the QAI database that tracts quality control.
The North Union Street facility is the same “soap shop” where “Inside Edition” filmed its hidden camera video and found children helping to make and package products for Acure and Savannah Bee Co.
According to QAI’s database, Greener Formulas processed several of Acure’s products, including its Brilliantly Brightening Glowing Serum, its Radically Rejuvenating Facial Toner Tonique, its Essentials Flower Balm and others.
“The serious allegations raised against the facility in Cambridge, New York are abhorrent and go against our values as a company,” Acure said in a statement. “We are no longer working with Greener Formulas and have pulled all production out of that facility.”
Acure said in a separate Facebook post that it had never had any contact with the Twelve Tribes group, only the Greener Formulas entity, which it had trusted until now.
“This was based on our confidence in the facility’s USDA organic certification, which requires manufacturers to meet rigorous standards and undergo an annual review and inspection process,” Acure wrote. “We require our vendors to abide by all labor laws.”
Acure said it is undertaking a larger audit of its other facilities in California, New Mexico and New Jersey.
“Those audits will link each product on our website to the place it was made and be open for customer inspection. We are using this as an opportunity to better ourselves and make our supply chain wide open for our customers view. In the meantime, we commend the undercover investigative efforts that may have exposed utterly reprehensible conduct at Greener Formulas,” the company wrote. “We look forward to proving ourselves and earning back your trust.”
Savannah Bee also dropped the Twelve Tribes after the “Inside Edition” story broke.
“As a result, we have terminated our relationship with this vendor,” Savannah Bee posted on its Facebook page. “At Savannah Bee, we take great pride in our products, from the ingredients we use to the way they are produced. Our company values and policies do not tolerate child labor. Our contracts with all of our manufacturing vendors explicitly prohibit any child labor. Any manufacturing vendor found to be violating our contract in this manner is also violating our company values and standards.”
Another former Twelve Tribes member who talked with “Inside Edition,” Shuah Jones, spoke to the Times Union as well.
Jones, 31, said her father, David Jones, was one of the three founding members of the sect, but she left when she was 15 years old. She said her brother was also in the group and was injured working on a logging crew when he was 10. At the time, Jones lived on a Twelve Tribes farm in Coxsackie.
Jones said she regularly worked in the cosmetics factory.
“At 8 years old I was sitting on a high stool working the factory line making the Estée Lauder Origins Salt Scrub,” Jones said. “The stuff still makes me throw up.”
Jones, who lives in Clearwater, Fla., and works as an insurance agent, blames government authorities who have not pursued the group’s practices hard enough over the years.
“They get bolder and more fearless each time they get away with it,” Jones said.
Twelve Tribes did not respond to requests for comment. The group has locations and businesses across upstate New York, New England and other states like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
The state Department of Labor said it has also begun investigating various Twelve Tribes locations across the state in Coxsackie, Oak Hill, Oneonta, Ithaca and Hamburg.
Sinasta Colucci, who wrote a book about the Twelve Tribes and lives in Michigan, said after the “Inside Edition” story broke, a Twelve Tribes member issued a statement to him that defended the way the group treats children.
“We make no apologies that we include our children in the tasks of our life,” reads the statement, which Colucci posted to Facebook on his author page. “They wash dishes, they pull weeds in the garden, they sweep the floor. … Most of those children were there on a Sunday visiting their parents on their own property. If they were putting tubes in boxes, it was for minutes, not hours, not days. The soap shop is on their home. It is their place.”
When “Inside Edition” chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Guerrero, confronted a Twelve Tribes leader outside of the farm for her story, the man denied on camera that the group uses child workers.
“We don’t use children in our factories,” the unidentified man told Guerrero. “We don’t have factories. … We don’t use child labor.”
Guerrero told the Times Union in a phone interview on Tuesday that she was struck by the fact that the Common Sense Farm soap factory was just 75 yards away from where she had confronted the man in his car.
“For him to deny there is a factory is pretty amazing,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said she and her “Inside Edition” team had been working on the story since last summer. The hidden camera video was taken last fall. “Inside Edition” producer Zara Lockshin went undercover and spent several days on the farm with a hidden camera recording life on the commune.
Guerrero said she is most concerned about the children that live with the Twelve Tribes, which has also faced allegations of child abuse in the past.
“We are really hoping that because of that report that we’ll be able to see some productive change here,” Guerrero said.