Stop child exploitation - FreedomUnited.org

Stop child labor rollbacks in the U.S.

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Tragedy strikes

“Two times he began to scream, ‘Help! Help!’ I knew he had died.”

In July of 2023, Duvan Tomas, a sixteen-year-old boy from Guatemala, was tragically killed when he was sucked into a deboning machine during his late-night shift at the meat processing plant, Mar-Jac Poultry.1

Several employees have died at Mar-Jac over the years. Perez’s was the third death since 2020.2

Alarming trends

The Department of Labor recorded that violations of child labor laws in the U.S. rose by 37% in 2022, and the number of minors unlawfully employed in hazardous occupations increased by 26%.3

Packers Sanitation Services Incorporation illegally employed over 100 children between the ages of 13 and 17. These children worked overnight shifts cleaning razor-sharp saws and other high-risk equipment on slaughterhouse kill floors.4

In August of 2022, a 14-year-old student showed up to school with acid burns on her hands and knees from working nights at a local slaughterhouse.5

Weakening federal standards of child labor

Many states have introduced or passed legislation that weakens child labor protections allegedly to “allow young adults to develop their skills in the workforce,” said Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa as she signed her state’s new child labor laws. Under Iowa’s new laws, 14 and 15-year-olds are permitted to do certain types of work that were previously banned, including work in industrial laundry services, freezers, and meat coolers, and operating heavy machinery such as power saws or joining demolition projects.

We are currently witnessing a gradual erosion of safeguards for child workers that were established nearly a century ago. What once seemed like a thing of the past is resurfacing, with state legislators actively working to weaken protective standards for children in the workforce. 

This unsettling shift not only poses a threat from human traffickers but also exposes children to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

The new legislation across all the efforts to rollback child labor laws pushes for minors to receive a lower minimum wage, work longer hours, and permit their employment in hazardous occupations.

Jennifer Sherer and Nina Mast from the Economic Policy Institute warn: 

“Attempts to weaken state-level child labor standards are part of a coordinated campaign backed by industry groups intent on eventually diluting federal standards that cover the whole country”6

Migrant children pay the highest price

Over the past two years, more than 250,000 unaccompanied migrant children have come to the United States. Thousands have ended up in the most dangerous jobs across the country: working overnight in slaughterhouses, replacing roofs, and operating machinery in factories – all in violation of child labor laws.7

These are not children who have illegally entered the U.S.; the federal government knows they are in the country and has deployed a task force to ensure they are protected from trafficking and exploitation. However, the government has lost immediate contact with over a third of the migrant children.

Meanwhile, many states have enacted or introduced bills that lift restrictions on child labor laws just as child labor violations are on the rise. Consequently, traffickers and unscrupulous employers are taking advantage of the weak child labor laws and exploiting vulnerable children, fully aware that they lack alternative viable opportunities.

Urgent call to action or risk modern slavery

We are calling for the U.S. states that are in the process of passing legislation that weakens child labor protections to stop! We demand that the every jurisdiction in the U.S. promote progressive legislation that protects child workers’ rights and enforces child labor laws and regulations.

Demand the U.S. to protect child workers! Not facilitate their exploitation!

The increasing infringements of child labor laws accompanied with state legislators’ efforts to diminish protection standards for children in the workforce, only encourages exploitation and risks leading to a slide towards modern slavery.

Sign our petition to say NO to child labor law rollbacks.

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.npr.org/2023/07/20/1188959743/meatpacking-death-teenager-mississippi-poultry-plant
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jul/19/guatemalan-boy-dies-mississippi-child-labor-law
  3. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/data/charts/child-labor
  4. https://files.epi.org/uploads/263680.pdf
  5. https://www.npr.org/2023/05/04/1173697113/immigrant-child-labor-crisis
  6. https://www.epi.org/publication/child-labor-laws-under-attack/
  7. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/17/us/politics/migrant-child-labor-biden.html
  • April 23, 2024: Even when companies are caught violating child labor laws, the fines are so low that they are inconsequential. Therefore, making the amoral choice to risk the health, safety, well-being, and education of children is “easy and profitable.”

    Now, however, a new bill is headed to the Alabama House floor that would increase penalties for employers who violate child labor laws. The bill is called “Crimes Against Children Remedy,” and bumps fines from $1,000 to $5,000 for certain violations and would raise some violations to a felony if children are hurt or due while working illegally. Read more.

  • March 25, 2024: Tuff Torq Corp., a Tennessee-based manufacturing company is facing substantial fines close to $300,000 for exploiting children and violating child labor laws by having them operate hazardous machinery and work illegal hours, as declared by the Department of Labor (DOL). These specific fines are unique to other child labor law violation cases for the new legal precedents they set.

    While there have been many recent cases of companies violating child labor laws, this one presents unprecedented and noteworthy turning points:

    • The DOL requires the company to set aside $1.5 million in profits to create a victim’s fund as a disgorgement of 30 days’ profits related to its use of child labor for the benefit of the child laborers. The Child Labor Coalition has been supporting this idea as part of the Shared Agenda of the Campaign to End U.S. Child Labor, with which Freedom United is a partner.
    • The DOL has recently announced that the fine is not based on the number of children involved, but on the number of violations. The old maximum for violating child labor laws was $15,000 per child involved; now, with this new formula to evaluate the level of fines, the company must pay $300,00 as a civil penalty in addition to the $1.5 million to the underage workers.
    • The DOL has fined all the beneficiaries of child labor in this case, as opposed to just the contracted companies that used child labor. For example, when it was discovered that exploitative child labor was used for cleaning slaughterhouses, only the company that was contracted to do the cleaning was fined, but not the meatpacking firms that benefited from the child labor.

    Read more

  • March 11th, 2024
    Executive Director, Joanna Ewart-James, writes an opinion piece about the campaign for CNN. 
    Read here

  • January 17, 2024: A Mississippi meat processing plant, Mar-Jac Poultry, was found responsible for the death of a 16-year-old migrant worker who sustained fatal injuries when he was sucked into a deboning machine. A child labor investigation has since been launched by The Department of Labor against the company. Read more.

  • Mar 01, 2024: Campaign Launches

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Christine
Christine
9 months ago

Children have the right to be free and to enjoy childhood, as all children should, no matter where they live. For a better, more progressive world, history can not afford to go backwards into the dark ages of child labour. The value of human life can only be supported if we are committed to compassionate care of young, old and everyone in between. Children live what they learn, so they can either learn to be callous or to become caring citizens of the world. The quality of life matters!

Maureen Jenkins
Maureen Jenkins
9 months ago

Disgraceful, disgusting, shame on Florida and the United States

Richard Richter
Richard Richter
9 months ago

If Florida is so short of labor that they need to employ children in adult jobs, perhaps they should be accepting more migrants and giving them work permits. How about it Governor Ron???

Elle Sadi
Elle Sadi
9 months ago

Please help with policies and procedures to deal proper immigration ans end human trafficking! No child should be trafficked in hopes of a better life and end up worse than where they began! Create tasks forces to combat human trafficking and put those responsible accountable and have them face the justice for their actions!

Teresa
Teresa
9 months ago

Breaks my heart to know how heartless Humans are..
even in the animal kingdom there isnt this torture..

I really believe it would be more beneficial to go after the
countries these poor people come from and make them pay
the arrival countries for the upkeep of their citizens that flee.….
need to turn the tables to have any change or pursue the
WHO or WEF or whatever to get them to condemn them

Stop child exploitation

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I am signing this petition to express my deep concern for the U.S. states that are in the process of passing bill(s) to rollback child labor laws. The recent increases in infringement of child labor laws, when accompanied by state legislators’ efforts to diminish, instead of increase, protection standards for children in the workforce, will only encourage exploitation and risks leading to a slide towards modern slavery.

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