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Fast-food child labor violations soar as child labor laws dissolve

  • Published on
    January 14, 2024
  • Category:
    Child Slavery, Forced Labor
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A comprehensive analysis by The Washington Post has uncovered a troubling surge in child labor violations within the fast-food industry in the United States, highlighting major franchises like McDonald’s, Sonic, and Chick-fil-A. The violations raise serious concerns about the exploitation of young workers.

Disregard for young workers

The findings reveal a disturbing trend, with child labor violations more than tripling over the past decade and violations in the food service sector skyrocketing almost sixfold. The fast-food industry’s apparent disregard for child labor laws is alarming, as young workers, in some instances, are subjected to prolonged work hours and exposure to hazardous kitchen equipment.

Data from the U.S. Labor Department reveals that,

“In the first nine months of 2023, agency officials found more than 4,700 teenagers under 18 working in violation of federal child labor laws — more than three-quarters of those in food service.”

The Washington Post’s analysis places McDonald’s at the forefront of franchises with high violation rates, the fast-food giant maintains that “child labor violations are rare.” However, an investigation that concluded in May 2023 revealed that 305 minors worked in violation of laws at three Kentucky-based McDonald’s franchises. It was discovered that two 10-year-olds were working as late as 2 a.m. and were not paid.

“Among the 10 restaurant franchisees with the most reported violations since 2020, five were McDonald’s restaurant owners, including Coughlin Inc. Data shows that those five franchisees committed 44 percent of the child labor violations found at McDonald’s since 2020, even as investigations examined a variety of franchisees. Weil, the former Labor Department official, describes these as instances of “super noncompliance” usually found at companies that “cut corners” as part of their business model.”

Biden cracks down, yet states roll back

The Biden administration seeks to crack down on child labor violators, but to do so they must address the lack of child labor law enforcement. The U.S. Labor Department acknowledges that its enforcement data provides only a partial picture, leaving the actual number of violations potentially much higher.

Simultaneously, as child labor violations surge, 19 states are reportedly in the process of rolling back their child labor laws. Proposed changes include extending legal work hours, lowering age requirements for serving alcohol, and eliminating age verification and parental permission requirements, prompting concerns about the welfare of young workers.

Most recently, Florida has pushed a bill through the state legislature that would eliminate all existing caps on work hours for 16- and 17-year-olds, allowing them to work overnight on school days. The bill was drafted by a conservative think tank that has pushed to weaken child labor protections in multiple states.

Take a stand against the unethical child labor law rollbacks that facilitate child exploitation across the states. With strong and enforced labor laws, business models that cut corners at the expense of child worker’s safety will not get away with such unscrupulous tactics. Weakened child labor laws make it exponentially more difficult for children who are in forced labor or working in exploitative conditions to come forward.


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Dennis Michael Smith
Dennis Michael Smith
5 months ago

DISGUSTING! The GOP want to roll our standards back to the 1890s era of the Robber Barons and sweatshops! I can use MYSELF long ago as a good example of how child labor laws are not STRONG ENOUGH and certainly do NOT need to be weakened! I was sixteen–and not limited as to how many hours by either SC or federal laws then or now–and therefore deemed to have “adult” maturity as to how many hours to work and worked too many and nearly flunked out of school as a result. Today’s stakes HIGHER!

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