New legal precedents: Tuff Torq Corp’s child labor violations

New legal precedents: the case of Tuff Torq Corp’s child labor violations

  • Published on
    March 25, 2024
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  • Category:
    Child Slavery, Law & Policy
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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.

The company which is known for producing power equipment parts for brands like John Deere, Toro, and Yamaha, has also been mandated to allocate $1.5 million in profits to the 10 children it employed, some as young as 14, in what authorities described as “oppressive child labor.”

Case and context  

This $300,000 fine and mandated allocation of profits for the child workers comes amid a wave of child labor violations across the U.S. at levels unseen in almost two decades. As reported by ABC News,

Last year, the Labor Department investigated 955 cases of child labor violations, involving 5,792 children nationwide, including 502 children employed in violation of hazardous occupation standards.

The increasing figures are fueled by multiple factors, including a historically constrained labor market causing shortages in various sectors, alongside a surge in immigration bringing hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied minors to the United States.

The Tuff Torq fines stem from a DOL investigation that began in 2023. During a tour of its facilities in January, federal investigators reported observing a child operating “a power-driven hoisting apparatus.” As a result, the department objected to the shipment of goods from that facility, citing the Fair Labor Standards Act’s “hot goods” provision, which prevents employers from shipping goods produced with exploitative child labor.

Wage and Hour Division Administrator Jessica Looman stated,

“Over the past year, we have seen an alarming increase in child labor violations, and these violations put children in harm’s way. With this agreement, we are ensuring Tuff Torq takes immediate and significant steps to stop the illegal employment of children. When employers fail to meet their obligations, we will act swiftly to hold them accountable and protect children.”

A new legal precedent

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.

We need your support to keep the ball rolling

Holding all companies that benefit from exploitative child labor and substantially raising the level of fines is a priority in deterring the surge in illegal and exploitative child labor. This case sets a positive legal precedent for combating nationwide efforts to create a bigger and more dangerous child workforce. Overwhelmingly, children involved in child labor are disproportionately children of color, unaccompanied migrants, or from families experiencing economic hardships. We are calling on you to take action and sign our petition to call for the end of child labor law rollbacks so we can prevent the deepening of educational, economic, and racial inequalities, as well as prevent putting more children’s lives in jeopardy. By doing so, you discouraging the use of exploitative child labor and fighting its slippery slope into modern slavery.

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