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New data show companies employed 5,792 children in violation of child labor law in FY23

Since 2019, child labor violations have
increased roughly 88 percent

New bill would strengthen labor law, give Department of Labor greater enforcement power

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3) introduced legislation to protect children from exploitative child labor practices and hold the companies and individuals who take advantage of them accountable. The Children Harmed in Life-threatening or Dangerous (CHILD) Labor Act strengthens our ability to combat child labor by cracking down on employers who violate child labor laws with stronger penalties and allowing children who have been seriously injured to sue their employers. The bill also expands child labor provisions to hold suppliers and subcontractors throughout the supply chain responsible and authorizes the Department of Labor to label goods that are produced with child labor.

“Children do not belong in factories or working during hours when they should be studying, spending time with their families, or simply being children. Yet too many bad actors get away with forcing kids to work long hours and under dangerous conditions,” said Senator Casey. “It is long past time we bring our child labor laws into the 21st century and fight back against the employers, contractors, and subcontractors that violate them.”

“Over the past few years, we have seen an alarming rise in instances of illegal and dangerous child labor—last year, a record number of businesses in Washington state were cited for child labor violations. We’re talking about kids, many of them migrant children, in abusive and extraordinarily dangerous work environments; kids working the night shift around heavy equipment and in unsafe conditions with no real recourse when they are harmed, and barely any accountability on the part of companies who break child labor law. This has to change,” said Senator Murray. “I’m grateful for the serious reporting that has helped shine a light on this growing problem, and the many victims who have courageously come forward to share their stories—but it’s going to take real action at the federal level to crack down on illegal and exploitative child labor, which has in many cases caused gruesome injuries and even death. This is about protecting vulnerable children from exploitation and abuse—there’s no reason Congress shouldn’t be able to act.”

“Since 2019, we have seen a substantial increase in child labor violations. As Top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, I have been committed to giving the Department of Labor the necessary resources to investigate these incidents and have fought for increases at the Department’s Wage and Hour Division and the Office of the Solicitor to ensure oversight officials can investigate child labor violation claims,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “Many of these children come from vulnerable backgrounds and are being taken advantage of by a system that should be taking care of them. These children are usually invisible in their communities, work long hours for little to no pay, and are frequently abused and deprived of any chance to play or go to school. The need is clear: we need legislation to safeguard children from exploitative labor practices that hurt their development and strip them of a childhood. Children do not belong in factories working for companies under oppressive conditions. The CHILD Labor Act would strengthen child labor laws and hold companies that exploit the labor of children accountable.”

In March, Senator Casey sent a letter to the Secretary of Labor to raise concerns about the alarming rise in child labor violations, applaud the creation of an interagency task force to combat illegal child labor, and provide recommendations to understand and combat this problem. He emphasized his commitment to working with DOL to utilize the full scope of government resources to protect children from unsafe conditions in the workplace and exploitative labor practices. In July, Casey asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the scope of the problem and the federal government’s response. Casey, Murray, and DeLauro’s new legislation is consistent with the concerns and recommendations in these letters.

The CHILD Labor Act would protect children by enhancing the Fair Labor Standards Act to hold liable contractors or subcontractors for child labor violations in the same manner as the employer who employs the oppressive child labor; increase the civil penalty amount for child labor violations from $11,000 to $151,380—or 10 times the inflation adjusted amount; increase the criminal penalty fine from $10,000 to $750,000; require any person who violates child labor provisions to be liable to each employee affected by the violation in an amount no less than $75,000; and require federal contracts to contain child labor provisions that prohibit the use of oppressive child labor.

The legislation would also authorize the Secretary of Labor to affix warning labels to goods manufactured with oppressive child labor, to issue a stop work order to any person in violation of child labor provisions, and require the Secretary to report to Congress data and recommendations concerning overall trends for work-related injuries, illnesses, or deaths to congress on an annual basis.

The following Senators have joined Casey and Murray to cosponsor the CHILD Labor Act: U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Fetterman (D-PA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The bill is endorsed by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), Child Labor Coalition, National Consumers League, and the Center for Law & Social Policy (CLASP).

Read more about the CHILD Labor Act here.