State Takes Close Look at Cult Kids in Factories

New York Post/April 12, 2001
By Kenneth Lovett

Albany -- State labor investigators have visited two of five businesses run by a controversial upstate cult to see if they are illegally forcing children to work. The Post reported Sunday that the Twelve Tribes cult uses unpaid child laborers to churn out its products, including some that were sold in Robert Redford's Sundance catalog.

Anticipating Sunday's story, labor investigators made a surprise visit to the Twelve Tribes factory in Coxsackie Friday, a Labor Department source said.

And they showed up for a spot inspection earlier this week at a Twelve Tribes site near Buffalo.

Labor Department spokeswoman Betsy McCormack wouldn't confirm the visits.

"We certainly will be inspecting all five sites, some more than once, depending on what we find," she said. "We're anxious to find out if all these allegations are true."

McCormack said the state investigation could be made more difficult and take longer because Twelve Tribe members are expecting the inspectors.

State law restricts the number of hours minors can work. Kids under 18 cannot operate machinery. Kids under 16 cannot work on a factory floor.

Twelve Tribes says it considers its businesses to be family-owned cottage industries where the children help their parents - not sweatshops.

The group is led by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, whose racist teachings and strict child-discipline policy has brought the group considerable controversy.

Members live communally, supporting themselves by making candles, soap, furniture and other products.

Al Jayne, an elder with the group, confirmed a state visit to the Buffalo-area commune, the Buffalo News reported yesterday. He said inspectors asked questions about the group's iron forge.

Redford's Sundance catalog plans to sever ties with the clan because of the labor issues.

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