Press Releases

Reps. Roybal-Allard, DeLauro Succeed in Getting GAO to Conduct Child Labor Study

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Washington, November 7, 2016 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Today, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) celebrated their victory in securing a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the presence of child labor in the United States, including the latest statistics and trends regarding children working in agriculture.  Congresswoman Roybal-Allard has been a leader in the effort to protect child workers in the agricultural sector, having introduced the CARE Act (Children’s Act for Responsible Employment) since 2001.  The CARE Act seeks to raise U.S. labor standards and protections for children working in agriculture to the same level set for children in all other industries, while retaining current exemptions for family farms and agricultural education programs.

“I am elated that GAO has agreed to overhaul out-of-date findings on U.S. child laborers in agriculture and throughout our workforce,”
said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, a Member of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.  “America’s labor laws let children work in agriculture with fewer restrictions and at younger ages than workers in any other industry.  While several hundred thousand children work in U.S. agriculture every year, we do not have enough data about them and their needs, especially those facing the hazards of tobacco farm work.  This new GAO study will help us collect and understand important demographic information on these children, will measure their health, safety, and educational status, and will examine how well the government is enforcing their labor protections.  The new study’s findings will be a boon to our ongoing efforts to assess and address the needs of our child farmworkers through legislation like my CARE Act.”

“From working extreme hours, to not having access to shade, water, or a restroom, serious violations continue to persist for child laborers working on farms in the United States,” said Congresswoman DeLauro, Ranking Member of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.  “More than 75 years after the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which strengthened protections for America’s most vulnerable children, it is an outrage that these conditions still exist today. This new GAO report will go a long way in increasing our understanding of the issue and allow policymakers to take the necessary actions to fight these atrocities.”

“We’re excited that the GAO will be examining the risks associated with child labor on farms,” said Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition and Director of Child Labor Advocacy for the National Consumers League.  “With the assiduous help of Rep. Roybal-Allard, who has led congressional efforts for over two decades, the advocacy community has been desperately trying to protect child farmworkers. We’ve been hampered by the lack of good data, however, and this new GAO report will help to fill some of the crippling data gaps and identify strategies that allow the federal government to improve its data collection.”

“The United States has a long-standing history of being a world leader on human rights issues.  Our country spends more than $90 million a year – more than all other countries combined – to eliminate child labor around the world, but has refused to effectively address child labor in our own backyard,” said Norma Flores López, the Chair of the Domestic Committee for the Child Labor Coalition.  “Federal law irresponsibly allows young children to work in U.S. agriculture without providing proper analysis the depth of the problem, the effectiveness of safeguards in preventing abuse, and the detrimental effects this type of labor has on the child’s wellbeing.  The Child Labor Coalition thanks the tireless leadership of advocates such as Congresswoman Roybal-Allard and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro for working with the GAO to make this much-needed report a reality.”

Congresswomen Roybal-Allard and DeLauro wrote a letter to the GAO on October 25th urging them to conduct a study assessing the risks associated with child labor in the United States, the data currently available to monitor these risks, and the oversight provided by the Department of Labor to protect the welfare of children in the workforce.  GAO has agreed to investigate the congresswomen’s concerns.

To protect children, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and its associated regulations limit the work permitted by minors, generally restricting child employment in non-agricultural work to jobs not deemed hazardous and to children 16 and older.  However, in the agricultural sector, labor laws allow work by much younger children, as well as hazardous work by children ages 16 and older.  Children working in agriculture risk pesticide poisoning, serious injury, and heat illness.

Since the 107th Congress, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard has sought to eliminate the dangerous double standard that exists in United States child labor laws and strengthen the FLSA.  As the author of the CARE Act of 2015, she will continue fighting to bring age and work-hour standards for children working in agriculture up to the standards for children working in all other industries; establish a minimum penalty for child labor violations; and increase the maximum civil monetary penalties and maximum criminal penalties for child labor violations.  Along with Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, Congresswoman DeLauro has also been a steadfast champion of the CARE Act, having cosponsored it across many Congresses.

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