WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor and its partners from the Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation today announced its recent actions to hold companies accountable for violating federal child labor laws.
The update follows the department’s February 2023 announcement of the task force’s formation, which applies a whole-of-government approach to enhance federal efforts to protect children from exploitative situations following a 69 percent increase in findings of illegal child labor between 2018 and 2022.
“The Biden-Harris administration, Department of Labor and members of the Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation are leaving no stone unturned to root out exploitative child labor,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “Child labor is an issue that gets to the heart of who we are as a country and who we want to be. Like the President, we believe that any child working in a dangerous or hazardous environment is one child too many. The Department of Labor is using the tools and resources at our disposal to ensure companies take responsibility for compliance with federal labor law, and that includes up and down their supply chains. We must all work together to make sure that children are safe, healthy and protected from exploitation.”
The Department of Labor-led Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation furthers collaboration and improves information-sharing among agencies. The task force participants include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, all of which are taking concrete steps to improve cross-training, outreach, education and health outcomes of children that could be subject to child labor.
Since the launch of these enhanced efforts, the department and task force have engaged with agencies across federal, state and local governments, resulting in new collaborative initiatives to prevent and address illegal child labor, that include the following:
Increasing focus on vigorously enforcing federal law and holding employers accountable:
The department’s Wage and Hour Division has significantly enhanced child labor enforcement efforts. Between Oct. 1, 2022 and July 20, 2023, as a result of this stepped-up enforcement, the agency concluded 765 child labor cases finding 4,474 children employed in violation of federal child labor laws and assessed employers with more than $6.6 million in penalties. These cases reflect a 44 percent increase in children found employed in violation of federal law and an 87 percent increase in penalties assessed from the same time period in the previous fiscal year. In addition, the agency is currently pursuing more than 700 open child labor cases. This enforcement data demonstrates the department’s commitment to identifying and addressing the child labor violations more aggressively than in the department’s history.
On May 2, 2023, the department announced findings that three businesses operating 62 McDonald’s locations across Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland and Ohio had employed 305 children to work more than the legally permitted hours and perform tasks prohibited by law for young workers. In all, the investigations led to assessments of $212,544 in civil money penalties against the employers. Earlier this week, the department announced that 16 McDonald’s franchise locations in Louisiana and Texas have found child labor violations affecting 83 minors. The division determined one franchisee allowed three children to operate manual deep fryers, a task prohibited for employees under age 16. The department assessed more than $77,500 in civil money penalties to two McDonald’s franchisees for its violations.
On July 7, 2023, the department announced that it had invoked the Fair Labor Standards Act “hot goods” provision to prevent shipment of goods produced using illegal child labor after finding two teenagers employed in violation of child labor laws at a Minnesota meat snack manufacturer.
The department found that the operator of six Nevada Sonic Drive-In locations illegally employed 14- and 15-year-old teenagers to work more hours and at times not permitted by federal child labor regulations, assigned them to operate manual deep fryers, and had committed more than 170 violations of the child labor provisions of the FLSA.
Emphasizing cross-training to ensure that every agency has the necessary skills to identify and report possible incidences of child labor exploitation:
Partner agencies have intensified information-sharing and cross-training to ensure agencies across the federal government understand child labor exploitation and the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address it.
The departments of Labor and Health and Human Services successfully collaborated on cross-training initiatives for over 780 Office of Refugee Resettlement staff and over 250 Wage and Hour Division managers related to the eradication of illegal child labor in a four-month period. Building on the success of these trainings, the departments are broadening their scope to provide trainings in July and August for other programs and HHS’ national network where there may be overlapping interest between labor exploitation and the populations that HHS serves daily, including homeless and runaway youth programs and state child welfare agencies.
On June 12, 2023, HHS’ Administration for Children and Families marked World Day Against Child Labor with a training for nearly 400 ACF staff to help them identify possible instances of child labor exploitation in their day-to-day work with grantees and external partners throughout the country.
In addition to collaborating closely with the agencies participating in the task force, the Department of Labor has engaged with the departments of Defense, Energy, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Treasury, and with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Corporation for National and Community Service, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the U.S. Agency for International Development on how to identify, prevent and report child labor exploitation.
Updating and creating new materials to ensure partners, employers, and the general public are armed with the information needed to prevent child labor violations:
The Wage and Hour Division has updated its child labor website and additional resources to clarify and streamline information for children, parents, employers and educators about federal child labor laws, including providing clear information about dangerous and prohibited jobs and, additionally, explaining ways to provide positive and safe work experiences for teens.
Given the importance of promoting understanding of labor law for youth-specific audiences, the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services are developing shareable, easily accessible “Know Your Rights” videos in multiple languages.
The Department of Homeland Security is identifying opportunities to share resources and to have the Department of Labor engage key state and local partners and public stakeholders on federal labor law and efforts to combat child labor exploitation.
The Department of Education is sharing information through newsletters, websites, and social media, ensuring that education stakeholders have greater understanding about the issue and can further inform young people and families about their rights.
Pursuing innovative partnerships and avenues to engage every facet of the federal government:
The departments of Labor and State have briefed ambassadors and embassy leadership from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico on efforts to combat exploitative child labor in the U.S., including of migrant children. The agencies continue to share resources and tools with consulates to further educate migrant communities.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ National Human Trafficking Prevention Summit expanded specific sessions and workshops to include child labor exploitation and the impact on youth and their communities for this year’s program.
In April 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent a letter to the 18 largest meat and poultry processors, representing approximately 70 percent of meat and poultry production by volume, requesting that all actors in the food supply chain take important precautionary steps to prevent or eliminate illegal child labor. These steps include determining whether illegal child labor is being used anywhere in their supply chain, incorporating stronger standards in supplier and vendor contracts, and adopting supplier standards that will better guard against the use of illegal child labor. In the months since, USDA has engaged in productive conversations with industry leaders about how they are working to ensure that their supply chains are free of illegal child labor. USDA is continuing to explore enforcement mechanisms and considering aspects of regulatory infrastructure that support the department’s ability to strengthen compliance and provide the necessary attention and oversight.
The departments of Labor and Justice are partnering through the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Children to educate custodians of unaccompanied children on federal child labor laws and protections through new materials and information provided during the LOPC orientations.
The departments of Labor and Justice are also collaborating to educate Office for Victims of Crime grantees and stakeholders to ensure that service providers for victims of crime have greater awareness about exploitative child labor, information on how to report suspected child labor violations, and resources to share with their clients and communities.
“While there still remains much to do in the effort to root out child labor in this country, the Biden-Harris administration, the Department of Labor and the Task Force and its members are fully committed to using every governmental lever possible under federal law and current funding levels to stop the exploitation of young people in workplaces across the country,” Acting Secretary Su added.