As Child Labor Violations Skyrocket, Senators Smith, Casey, Murray Introduce Legislation to Combat Child Labor Exploitation

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) joined Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introducing comprehensive labor legislation to protect children from exploitative child labor practices and hold companies and individuals who take advantage of them accountable.

The Children Harmed in Life-threatening or Dangerous (CHILD) Labor Act cracks down on employers who violate child labor laws with much stronger federal penalties and allows children who have been exploited to sue their employers. The bill authorizes the Department of Labor to label and restrict the shipping of goods that are produced with child labor.  It also provides the Department of Labor with greater authority to investigate and hold suppliers and subcontractors throughout the supply chain responsible for oppressive child labor and requires federal contracts to contain provisions prohibiting child labor, among other provisions.

“Over the past few years we have seen an alarming and dramatic increase in child labor violations,” said Senator Smith. “We’ve seen deeply troubling examples in Minnesota – meatpacking plants and slaughterhouse floors are no place for children. Companies that take advantage of children – often those who are most vulnerable – and subject them to dangerous work environments must be held accountable. This legislation strengthens and improves federal child labor laws and takes important steps to ensure bad actors are met with stronger penalties and are held accountable for violations.”

“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.”

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, and deaths on an annual basis.

The following Senators have joined Smith, 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), 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.