September 24, 2023

The Biden administration’s announcement follows reports of underage refugees and migrants working in hazardous industries.

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The United States government has announced plans to combat child labor in the country following a spate of violations and news reports of the illegal employment of underage refugees and migrants in hazardous industries.

U.S. officials said Monday the Labor Department has recorded a nearly 70 percent increase in child labor violations since 2018, with 835 companies found to have violated child labor laws in the last fiscal year alone.

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Officials told reporters during a conference call that US President Joe Biden’s administration is investigating the employment of children by companies including Hearthside Food Solutions and Hyundai Motor suppliers.

To try to curb the growth, a joint Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Services task force in charge of unaccompanied minors entering the country will seek to improve information sharing between the two agencies.

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A parallel initiative by the Department of Labor will aim to improve enforcement of existing laws, especially in regions and industries where offenses are most prevalent. Under current laws, the maximum fine for violating child labor laws is $15,138 per case.

It is unclear whether the investigation will lead to criminal prosecution, fines or other penalties. Hearthside said in a statement that the company is “appalled” by the allegations of child labor and will “cooperate with the Department of Labor in their investigation and do our part to continue to comply with all local, state and federal employment laws.”

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The surge in illegal child labor coincides with a massive influx of unaccompanied children fleeing poverty and violence in Latin America, which resulted in the placement of 130,000 minors in US government-run shelters in the last fiscal year.

“This is not a 19th-century problem – it’s a today’s problem,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said on Monday, calling for a broad mobilization of resources to address the problem.

“We need Congress to sit down at the negotiating table, we need states to sit down at the negotiating table.”

Children are allowed to start working at age 14 in the US subject to their work time restrictions, but work in certain jobs, such as slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants, is prohibited for minors.

An article published over the weekend in The New York Times reports an increase in the number of underage migrants, some as young as 12, working in various sectors of the US economy, from auto factories to construction sites and delivery services.