Amid the rising number of child labor violations in the U.S., bipartisan Senate bills are being introduced to enforce child labor laws to curb abuse and exploitation, reports Mica Rosenberg of Reuters. The announcement of these bills comes after the reports from the Department of Labor (DOL) that, in the 2023 fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2023, “investigations had found close to 5,800 kids illegally employed in the U.S., an 88% increase from 2019.”
The need for child labor protections
In the wake of the efforts in many states to weaken child labor laws to fill the tight labor market, migrant children are being disproportionately exploited to fill these gaps. Many are employed unscrupulously in the most hazardous occupations, such as meatpacking plants and other factories, handling dangerous machinery and chemicals, and working all night shifts.
In a story published in February 2022, Reuters exposed child labor at Alabama chicken plants, revealing how unaccompanied Central American migrants in debt to human smugglers were forced to work grueling factory shifts. In November of 2022, the DOL filed a complaint against cleaning company Packers Sanitation Services Inc. for employing children to clean meatpacking plants across the country and consequently suffering severe chemical burns and other injuries. Other reports revealed that children as young as 12 were manufacturing car parts at auto giants like Hyundai and Kia.
A breakdown of the bills
In late October, three bills were introduced in the Senate. One is targeted towards companies with federal contracts that employ children to hire with more scrutiny. The other is to increase reporting requirements to Congress. And the third is to improve protections for unaccompanied migrant children.
A bipartisan bill was introduced by Marco Rubio from Florida, with Alec Padilla from California, John Hickenlooper from Colorado, and Roger Marshall from Kansas, that would require the DOL to report more details to lawmakers about the perpetrators and victims involved in child labor cases.
“The bill would require detailed, annual reports that include the age of children involved and any injuries or deaths on the job.”
In a different bill that was announced on October 25, a group of Democratic Senators introduced a bill to reform the government care of unaccompanied migrant children:
“Included in the proposal is a measure to increase access to visas for people who have been victims of crime or workers – including children – who have suffered or been witness to labor violations or cooperated with officials to investigate workplace abuse.”
The ball just got rolling
Introducing these bills is a welcome start in combatting the pushbacks in child labor laws across the U.S. Help keep the ball rolling by emailing representatives of the states that have introduced or passed legislation that weakens child labor laws. Take action here!