New York: Yellow Deli's Twelve Tribes investigated for possible child labor violations

The Yellow Deli building sits amidst the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The New York Department of Labor is investigating a community connected to the religious sect that runs the Yellow Deli on McCallie Avenue in Chattanooga.

Common Sense Farm, owned by the Twelve Tribes and located in Cambridge, New York, came under investigation after an undercover report by "Inside Edition" that aired on June 1.

New York state investigators conducted an onsite investigation at the farm Monday. They found multiple violations involving 12 minors who were engaged in factory work, which is prohibited, according to a statement from the New York Department of Labor.

The farm produces lotions and creams for brands such as Acure and Savannah Bee either directly or through third-party manufacturers. The products are carried by several retailers, including Target, Whole Foods and Walmart, "Inside Edition" reported.

In a statement to the Times Free Press, Acure Organics said the allegations against Twelve Tribes' Common Sense Farms are "abhorrent and go against our values as a company." The company cut ties with the third-party manufacturer that contracted Common Sense Farms.

A Savannah Bee Company spokesperson said in a statement that the company takes the allegations very seriously, and as a result, they have terminated their relationship with the third-party manufacturer that contracted Common Sense Farm.

The Yellow Deli restaurant in Chattanooga also carries several natural products, but employees on Thursday declined to confirm if any of those products were from Common Sense Farm. They added that the restaurant does not carry Acure or Savannah Bee products.

"The motive of [the investigation] was lies, and you're building off of lies to make a story," said a manager who identified himself as Scott but declined to give his last name.

He said he was aware of the "Inside Edition" investigation.

"It's just a bunch of baloney. So that's all I have to say about it," he said before ending the call.

Tennessee Department of Labor spokesman Chris Cannon said the Labor Standards Unit does not have any record of investigations or violations of Yellow Deli or the Twelve Tribes in the Chattanooga area. Information about locations elsewhere in the state wasn't immediately available.

In New York, the labor department educated the owners about child labor standards, and the community faces possible fines pending the outcome of the investigation.

"Children are our most valuable asset and compliance with the Child Labor Law is not discretionary - it's mandatory," said labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon in a statement.

In a response posted to the community's website, Robert Racine, whose title was not provided, wrote, "We will embrace the consequences of our actions, for which we are not ashamed, but would hope that common sense would dictate the treatment of both Acure Organics and the Savannah Bee Company."

The department also is investigating eight other Twelve Tribes communities, farms and Yellow Deli restaurants across New York.

Tennessee has four Twelve Tribes-related entities, including two communities and two Yellow Delis. They are located in Chattanooga and Pulaski.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.