Undercover Investigation Exposes Child Labor in New York Compound

An Inside Edition hidden camera investigation found children as young as 9 working in a factory in Cambridge, N.Y.

They preach peace and love — but there is another side to the members of a commune in upstate New York.

An Inside Edition hidden camera investigation found children as young as 9 working in a factory in Cambridge, N.Y.

The children were packaging high-end lotions and skin cream for brands like Acure and Savannah Bee that are sold by well-known chain retailers in America, including Whole Foods, Amazon, Target and Walmart.

Shuah Jones, now 30, and Sarah Williams, 34, were both born into the religious sect, which is known as Twelve Tribes, but they’re now speaking out against the group, which has thousands of followers around the world.

Some of their followers live in a large communal house in upstate New York. They have a soap factory, 75 yards away, where they manufacture  high-end soaps and lotions.

At Inside Edition's request, Williams returned to Twelve Tribes, and was welcomed back by the people who still remember her before she left eight years ago.

But they didn’t know she was wearing a hidden camera for Inside Edition.

She recorded a girl working on the assembly line. The child told her she was 11.

When Williams asked another child her age, her father appeared to be aware the girl shouldn’t be working. The camera caught him assuring his daughter it was OK to talk because she wasn’t speaking to an investigator from the Department of Labor.

“She’s not secret service. She’s not child labor,” he said.

That’s when the girl responded that she was 10 years old.

“People don't know that when they buy these beautiful products … they don't know that there are little, tiny children over in Cambridge, N.Y., making them,” Williams told Inside Edition.

Inside Edition producer Zara Lockshin also went undercover to the commune and found children working on their farm. One 6-year-old boy was picking potatoes and trying his best to handle a wheelbarrow.

One member explained how they keep the children "under control."

“If a child isn't under control, they can't be taught," he said. “It takes training. It takes the rod of authority. It takes them being disciplined and spanked when they're not obedient."

Inside Edition found the “rods of authority” are actually thin bamboo sticks, seen hanging on a wall in the communal house. They are used on a child in the event of any transgression, according to former members.

“In the Twelve Tribes, beatings are a way of life every single day,” Williams said.

Jones added, “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."

Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero later confronted a Twelve Tribes leader.

He told her, “We don't use children in factories. We don't have factories.”

But she told him Inside Edition had video proving otherwise.

“Aren't you selling your soaps and lotions to major retailers?” she asked. “Are they aware that you are using child labor?”

He responded, “We don’t use child labor.”

The group also denies abusing their children, saying: "We are always gentle with our children."

But Shuah Jones told Inside Edition, ”If no one tells the world what's going on, it just continues.”

In a statement to Inside Edition, Savannah Bee said it opposes child labor, and its manufacturers follow all labor regulations. Acure told Inside Edition the allegations are "abhorrent" and it has now stopped doing business with the factory.

Wal-Mart said they have blocked the product from its website while they investigate. 

Target is looking into what we found while Amazon and Whole Foods had no comment.