Biden Administration to intervene following New York Times investigation revealing illegal child labor across the country
The investigation published Feb. 25 revealed the insurmountable rise of illegal child labor, especially for immigrant children coming to the U.S. alone.
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The Biden Administration announced initiatives on Monday, Feb. 27 to combat the recent surge in illegal child labor across the country, including investigations into the companies benefiting from the exploitation of immigrant children.
This follows a New York Times investigation published Saturday, Feb. 25, that documented the current real life instances of many child immigrants — with many instances of child immigrants crossing the border alone — working punishing and highly dangerous jobs that violate many child labor laws.
The U.S. Department of Labor released a statement on the new measures, also revealing that since 2018, it has seen a 69% increase in illegal employment of minors. In the previous fiscal year, the department found 835 companies it investigated had employed more than 3,800 children.
“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,” the statement read.
On a conference call with reporters on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh called on Congress to act as the cases of illegal child labor rises.
“We see every day the scourge of child labor in this country, and we have a legal and a moral obligation to take every step in our power to prevent it. Too often, companies look the other way and claim that their staffing agency, or their subcontractor or supplier is responsible. Everyone has a responsibility here,” said Walsh.
“This is not a 19th century problem — this is a today problem. We need Congress to come to the table, we need states to come to the table. This is a problem that will take all of us to stop,” he added.
The new measures
The DOL laid out nine new measures in their statement on Monday that includes a DOL-led Interagency Taskforce to Combat Child Labor Exploitation. They will improve information sharing among agencies, and advance the health, education, and well-being of children in the U.S. The agencies will also hold education and training initiatives in relevant communities.
A nationwide strategic enforcement initiative on child labor was also announced, where the department’s Wage and Hour Division will use data-driven and worker-focused strategies to conduct investigations where child-labor violations are most likely to occur.
The division and the department’s Office of the Solicitor will use all available enforcement tools, including penalties, injunctions, stopping the movement of goods made with child labor, and criminal referrals where warranted.
They also plan to hold companies more accountable as the DOL vows to hold all employers accountable to make sure child labor is removed from supply chains by way of pushing more scrutiny and criticism onto the companies doing business with employers using illegal child labor. Many host companies like to say that they are unaware or unable to control what was happening.
The Department of Health and Human Services will also require a follow-up call to any child who calls the Office of Refugee Resettlement National Call Center (ORRNCC) with a safety concern. ORRNCC refers every safety related call to the appropriate law enforcement agency or child protective services.
The follow-up will be an important aspect and the ORRNCC will also incorporate language into its training materials to ensure former unaccompanied children who reach out to the helpline can understand which authorities their concerns will be reported to.
Other measures announced included expanding post release services for unaccompanied children, increasing funding for the DOL’s enforcement agencies, asking Congress to increase the civil monetary penalties for companies that use child labor, and new training material for unaccompanied migrant children so they know their rights.
Other findings from the NYT investigation
From dangerous factories to slaughterhouses, The Times found that every state has at least one instance of illegal child labor.
The investigation revealed some of the found products made with child labor in the American supply chains of major brands and retailers, such as J. Crew, Walmart, Target, Ben & Jerry’s, Fruit of the Loom, Ford and General Motors.
According to the report, over 250,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border into the U.S. in just the last two years alone, most of them from Central America countries where danger has grown for anyone leaving the country or caught and returned to the country.
It found that more often than not, migrant children buy false identification, specifically Social Security numbers and are able to find work through brokers or staffing agencies, who place them.
Most of the migrant children themselves are forced to take whatever job comes their way — no matter the danger it poses — because of the pressure put on them to send money back home to their families, pay the thousands of dollars in smuggling fees as well as rent and other expenses towards their sponsors, if applicable.
According to a 2008 federal anti-trafficking law, children traveling alone from countries other than Canada and Mexico can stay and apply for asylum or other legal protections in the U.S. while the HHS is responsible for making sure said sponsors will support and protect the child from trafficking or exploitation.
Administration officials also revealed on the conference call that the DOL had begun an investigation into Hearthside Food Solutions in Grand Rapids, Mich., where children worked late nights at plants operated by Hearthside. They make and package food for other companies including General Mills, Frito-Lay and Quaker Oats.
They have yet to comment on the situation.
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