The Guardian reports of a 16-year-old’s death in Wisconsin when he was operating a conveyor at a sawmill and got caught in the machinery. Across the U.S., there has been a push to loosen or abolish child labor laws in the workforce. At the same time, there has been a 69% increase in illegally employed children, many of them migrants, according to a Department of Labor report released earlier this year. The 16-year-old’s death highlights the lethal results of child labor exploitation and the dangers of rolling back child labor protections.
Kids operating dangerous machines, not stacking lumber
16-year-old Micheal worked at the local sawmill with his father over summers to bring in needed extra income. But Micheal’s father assumed Micheal and the other children employed by the sawmill were inside stacking lumber, not manning a conveyer as Micheal was when he was killed. Just this year, legislation was introduced in Wisconsin to eliminate the need for work permits for 14- and 15-year-olds.
Reid Maki, a director of child labor advocacy for the National Consumers League and coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition said:
“At a time when we’re seeing such egregious (child labor) violations, you need to be strengthening protections, not weakening them.”
Teens are already allowed to work across the U.S. under existing laws. At issue is whether the children working will be protected from exploitation and abuse by limiting working hours and confined to occupations that are not dangerous or harmful to their development.
Company’s products “hot goods” made with oppressive child labor
Due to Micheal’s death, the Department of Labor launched an investigation into the lumber company and found three other teen employees had been injured while working between November 2021 and March 2023, one of them twice. They also found nine teens were illegally operating dangerous equipment. The investigation led to the company’s products being designated as “hot goods” signaling that their products are made with oppressive child labor, in addition to hefty fines.
Micheal’s mother described her response and anger at his death as:
“…like your heart being ripped out of your chest, the worst feeling in the world. He should not have been left alone at all,”
Children pay the price for legislator’s lack of labor protection
A story published in February 2022 by Reuters exposed child labor at Alabama chicken plants, revealing how unaccompanied migrants were trafficked into working grueling factory shifts. Other reports have found children employed cleaning meatpacking plants suffering severe chemical burns and children as young as 12 working manufacturing car parts at auto giants like Hyundai and Kia. We cannot sit by while unscrupulous employers hire children to do dangerous work in order to make their bottom line.
It’s time to call out the states introducing or passing child labor protection rollbacks. Stand with Freedom United and call on them to fulfill their role to protect and represent the children in their state instead of facilitating their exploitation. Take action and demand that state representatives repeal legislation that aids the exploitation of children.