The Biden administration has vowed to crackdown on a surge in the illegal exploitation of children for labor in the United States, citing a nearly 70 percent increase in kids being employed illegally by companies over the past five years.
The Department of Labor (DOL) said in a statement on Feb. 27 said that it is working with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat child labor nationwide and is establishing a new interagency task force to deal with the issue.
According to the department, there has been a 69 percent increase in children being employed illegally by companies in the United States since 2018.
“In the last fiscal year, the department found 835 companies it investigated had employed more than 3,800 children in violation of labor laws,” the department said.
“The maximum civil monetary penalty under current law for a child labor violation is $15,138 per child. That’s not high enough to be a deterrent for major profitable companies,” it added.
According to officials, the task force will improve information sharing among agencies and advance the health, education, and well-being of children in the United States.
“For instance, timely information regarding active child labor investigations, as appropriate, enables HHS to apply additional scrutiny in the sponsor vetting process when warranted because of geographic or other concerns,” the department said.
Congress Must Raise Child Labor Penalties
“Through this task force, the agencies will also jointly conduct education and training initiatives in relevant communities,” the statement said.
As well as the task force, the DOL is establishing a national strategic enforcement initiative on child labor that will use “data-driven, worker-focused strategies to initiate investigations where child-labor violations are most likely to occur.”
The task force will also allow the division and the department’s Office of the Solicitor to use all available enforcement tools, including penalties, injunctions, and preventing the movement of goods made with child labor where warranted. Criminal referrals will also be available to use under the task force, the department said.
Additionally, employers will be held accountable to ensure child labor is removed from supply chains, mandated follow-up calls will be rolled out for unaccompanied children who report safety concerns to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) National Call Center, and HHS will work with Congress to ensure sufficient resources for ORR so that they can provide post-release services to all children and sponsors by 2025.
Funding for the DOL’s enforcement agencies will also be bolstered, and new training materials will be given to unaccompanied children in care and potential sponsors about child labor laws.
The DOL also called on Congress to raise the penalties for companies that are found to use child labor, adding that the current maximum penalty of $15,138 is “not high enough to be a deterrent for major profitable companies.”
A string of other new policies will be implemented to help tackle the rise in child labor, the department said.
“Every child in this country, regardless of their circumstance, deserves protection and care as we would expect for our own child,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
“At Health and Human Services, we will continue to do our part to protect the safety and wellbeing of unaccompanied children by providing them appropriate care while they are in our custody; placing them in the custody of parents, relatives, and other appropriate sponsors after vetting; and conducting post-release services including safety and wellbeing calls. Everyone from employers to local law enforcement and civic leaders must do their part to protect children,” Becerra added.
The rise in illegal child labor cases comes amid an ongoing immigration crisis that has seen a surge in unaccompanied children entering the United States without their parents.
Customs and Border Protection data show that 130,000 unaccompanied children were processed by U.S. officials along the southern border in 2022.
Under U.S. law, HHS is mandated to house unaccompanied children until it can re-home them via sponsors.
Child Workers Found at Meatpacking Plants
The latest crackdown on child labor comes after the Labor Department announced it had fined one of the nation’s largest food sanitation service providers, Packers Sanitation Services Inc. (PSSI), $1.5 million for employing at least 102 minors between the ages of 13 and 17 in dangerous jobs cleaning meatpacking plants across 13 facilities in eight states.
The children were reportedly found to be working overnight shifts in the facilities, allegedly using hazardous chemicals and cleaning meat processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws, and head splitters.
An investigation found that at least three minors had been injured while working for the company.
A PSSI spokeswoman told NBC News that it has a “strong corporate commitment to our zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18, and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations.”
A recent investigation by The New York Times found that 12 immigrant child workers had been killed in the United States since 2017, including a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a car while delivering food on his bike in Brooklyn, and a 15-year-old boy who fell 50 feet from a roof in Alabama while laying down shingles.
The DOL said it currently has 600 child labor investigations underway and continues to receive complaints regarding illegal child labor across the country.
“The department takes these egregious violations very seriously and investigates every child labor complaint they receive and acts to hold employers accountable,” the DOL said.
From The Epoch Times