Michigan Democrats form task force to crack down on child labor violations

Hillary Scholten

On July 18, two Democratic members of Congress from Michigan, Reps. Dan Kildee and Hillary Scholten, announced the formation of a new task force to address the recent rise in child labor violations across the country.

A report published by the New York Times in February uncovered a rise in child labor law violations around the country, particularly involving companies that produce products for well-known brands — like Cheetos and Fruit of the Loom — illegally employing migrant children and other underaged children in dangerous jobs. In February 2023, the Department of Labor fined Packers Sanitation Services Inc., one of the nation’s largest food-safety sanitation services providers, $1.5 million for illegally employing more than 100 children.

In February 2023, following a Reuters investigation that uncovered children working at an automotive parts supplier for the Hyundai Motor Group, Kildee led a letter signed by 32 members of Congress to the Department of Labor urging them to increase their investigative efforts and enforcement of child labor laws.

“The problem of child labor exploitation in this country is multi-faceted, and it requires a multi-system solution,” Scholten said in a statement. “Our task force will provide just that. As lawmakers, we are coming together to make sure the executive branch is doing what it should to enforce our laws, hold violators accountable, and most of all, protect kids. We’ll also offer the legislative and budgetary solutions necessary to root out this horrific abuse in our country.”

According to the statement, 13 other House Democrats are members of the task force i, which will work to pass legislation to increase the penalties for companies that violate child labor laws. The task force will also meet with committee chairs and congressional leadership to raise awareness of child labor violations and keep tabs on the federal agencies charged with enforcing child labor violations.

The United States has seen a steady rise in child labor violations since 2015, according to data compiled by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. Some labor experts say they are especially worried about a recent spate of new and proposed laws to roll back child labor protections in a number of states.

“Child labor laws are under attack in states across the country, just as violations of these standards are rising,” Jennifer Sherer, the senior state policy coordinator for the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning labor think tank, said in a recent statement. “The trend reflects a coordinated multi-industry push to expand employer access to low-wage labor, with the end goal of rewriting federal child labor laws and other worker protections for the whole country.”

Lawmakers in at least 10 states have passed or introduced legislation to weaken child labor protections over the past two years, according to the EPI. One of the latest examples is in Arkansas, where Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill in March that eliminates child work permits, among other provisions. GOP lawmakers in WisconsinMissouri and Ohio have introduced legislation this year similar to the Missouri law. The effort is being spearheaded by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a right-wing lobbying organization that has ties to a number of dark money groups and that is drafting model legislation language that they provided to state lawmakers.

“Children should be in classrooms, not working dangerous factory jobs,” Kildee said in a statement to the American Independent Foundation. “As co-chair of the Child Labor Prevention Task Force, I will continue to advocate for legislation to increase civil and criminal penalties for corporations that break the law and hire children illegally. We should be strengthening our efforts to combat child labor, not weakening protections at a state level like we’ve seen in places like Arkansas and Iowa.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.