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“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
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.
- https://www.npr.org/2023/07/20/1188959743/meatpacking-death-teenager-mississippi-poultry-plant ↩
- https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jul/19/guatemalan-boy-dies-mississippi-child-labor-law ↩
- https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/data/charts/child-labor ↩
- https://files.epi.org/uploads/263680.pdf ↩
- https://www.npr.org/2023/05/04/1173697113/immigrant-child-labor-crisis ↩
- https://www.epi.org/publication/child-labor-laws-under-attack/ ↩
- https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/17/us/politics/migrant-child-labor-biden.html ↩