2023 was marked by the alarming resurgence of child labor, signaling a troubling rise of exploitative practices and casting a shadow over the U.S.’s commitment to safeguarding vulnerable populations.
The disturbing reports
The Week summarizes a couple major findings from some reports of the year.
The Washington Post reported:
“The Labor Department reported in October that it had found 5,792 minors who had been put to work in violation of child labor laws in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. That was an 88% jump since 2019, and the highest level in nearly two decades.”
“The Department of Labor concluded cases involving 4,474 children employed in violation of federal child labor laws between Oct. 1, 2022, and July 20, 2023, a 44% increase from the year before. The department imposed more than $6.6 million in penalties, up 87% from the previous year.”
The New York Times reported in February that migrant children were packing cereal into bags at a factory in Michigan, slicing chicken into nuggets at a plant in Alabama, as well as doing other factory jobs, sometimes on the overnight shift.
Labor Department announced that it had identified over a hundred children aged 13 to 17 employed by Packers Sanitation Services, one of the biggest U.S. food sanitation companies, and working overnight shifts at facilities owned by industry giants like Tyson Foods and JBS. Yet all three companies denied any wrongdoing.
NBC News reported that some of the children found cleaning slaughterhouses were unaccompanied minors.
“We see every day the scourge of child labor in this country, and we have a legal and a moral obligation to take every step in our power to prevent it,” — Labor Secretary Marty Walsh
Consequences of child labor law rollbacks
The relaxation of child labor protections in several states, including Arkansas, Iowa, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, further exacerbates exploitative conditions, emboldening businesses to exploit regulatory loopholes and diminish accountability. While proponents advocate for regulatory flexibility and economic growth, critics caution against compromising children’s welfare, emphasizing the adverse impacts of exploitative labor practices on physical health, mental well-being, and developmental trajectories.
It is time to put an end to child labor law rollbacks by sending a message to state representatives to enforce laws that prevent any employers from resorting to exploitative cheap child labor.