A federal judge ruled this week that a polygamist Mormon cult in Utah forced nearly 200 children to work outdoors in the cold harvesting crops on behalf of a Utah contracting company that had ties to the sect. The Star-Telegram reports that U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell held Utah-based Paragon Contractors in contempt of court after finding that it used 1,400 workers — including 175 children — as unpaid labor to pick pecans. Some of the children were as young as 6 years old.
Paragon tried to argue that families from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had merely volunteered to help with the harvest and weren’t being exploited. However, The Star Telegram notes that the judge “heard from five children and teenagers who said they were pulled out of classes to work long hours while they were growing up in the sect” and “were exposed to cold rain, barred from resting in nearby vans and often given only one snack to eat.” The judge also cited testimony from some of the youngest children claiming that they “wet their pants because there weren’t enough portable toilets for all the workers.”