Farmworker advocates building CARE momentum – National Consumers League

Advocates have been working for years to improve the working conditions for young farmworkers in the United States. In recent months, the CARE Act, the domestic priority for NCL’s Child Labor Coalition, has been gathering steam. In all, 73 groups, representing a diverse cross-section of interests, have stood up and said it’s time to end the injustice of child labor in U.S. agriculture.

During its 111-year history, the National Consumers League (NCL) has often played the role of “convener,” bringing groups together to work to protect American workers and consumers. A prime example of this work is the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which is made up of 24 groups committed to fighting abusive child labor here in the United States and around the world. The CLC’s domestic priority is protecting the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers who often work long, back-breaking hours in the fields at very young ages because of loopholes in U.S. child labor law.

The CLC, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), and the Children in the Fields Campaign partners are engaged in the Children in the Fields campaign to end those exemptions by passing the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), which currently has 75 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. In the last six months, campaign partners have had great success in attracting other groups to engage in the battle to pass CARE.

First, campaign members sought the support of the farmworker community. In all, 12 farmworker organizations have signed on. The United Farm Workers of America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, two of the oldest and most revered farmworker unions have endorsed CARE. Advocacy groups including Farmworker Justice, Student Action with Farmworkers, the National Farmworker Alliance, the Migrant Legal Action Program, the Farmworker Association of Florida, and the National Farmworker Ministry all agree that CARE will help protect farmworker children.

Farmworker educational groups like the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association and the National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education have endorsed CARE because they know that child labor at early ages often leads young workers to drop out of school. Advocates estimate that as many as two out of three migrant children do not complete high school and end up trapped in low-wage farm work.

Some of the country’s largest unions see CARE as badly needed to protect young workers from exploitation. The AFL-CIO, Change to Win, the American Federation of Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Communications Workers of America, the National Education Association, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union are among the unions and union coalition that have endorsed CARE.

American Rights at Work, Interfaith Worker Justice, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the International Labor Rights Forum are among the groups that fight for workers rights and support the passage of CARE. These groups realize that child labor not only endangers the health and education of young workers, it undercuts adult wages and the ability to advocate for better working conditions.

Poverty reduction groups like the Center for Community Change, Oxfam America, and Results have endorsed CARE because they realize that child labor contributes to the generational poverty that traps farmworker families.

For many groups, arduous child labor at such young ages raises civil rights and justice issues. Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Human Rights Watch (HRW)—one of the major Children in the Fields Campaign partners–have all endorsed CARE. HRW is among the rights groups that have raised the issue of whether the U.S. might be in violation of the international child rights agreement, Convention 182, because child labor in U.S. agriculture represents a “worst form” of child labor. In the coming months, HRW will release an extensive research report that examines the plight of child farmworker in the U.S.

Many of the nation’s leading Latino Rights organizations have expressed strong support for CARE. NCLR–the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, MANA–A National Latina Organization, the Latino Advocacy Council of Western North Carolina,  the Hispanic Federation, and the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute are among CARE supporters who realize that U.S. labor law unjustly impacts Latino youth. In 1938, when the U.S. passed the Fair Labor Standards act and the agriculture exemptions became law, many child workers were African-American. The NAACP has also formally endorsed CARE. The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Asian American Justice Center have added their endorsement to the campaign as well.

Anti-gender discrimination groups like the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Pride at Work have asked Congress to say “no” to de facto discrimination by passing CARE.

Faith-based organizations have added their voice to the Children in the Fields campaign. The United Methodist Women, the United Methodist Church—General Board of Church and Society, and the North Carolina Council of Churches are among CARE supporters.

Child rights and child welfare supporters include First Focus Campaign for Children, the International Initiative to End Child Labor, Maine’s Children Alliance, and Kentucky Youth Advocates. The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, the National Foster Care Coalition, the National Collaboration for Youth, United States Student Association, Voices for Ohio’s Children, and Media Voices for Children.

Many of the children working in the fields are girls and several groups concerned about the rights of women have also asked Congress to pass CARE, including the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the National Organization for Women, the American Association of University Women, Dialogue on Diversity, and Legal Momentum—formally the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Although the CARE Act would preserve a family farm exemption that allows the children of growers to continue to work on family farms, the grower community has been slow to embrace the CARE Act. Industry groups like the American Farm Bureau are officially neutral on the bill. Only one brave farmer, Swanton Berry Farms, has stood up and said that employing children to work for wages at the age of 12 is wrong. Bon Appetit Management Company, a catering company that believes in sustainable agriculture has also endorsed CARE.

A variety of other groups have endorsed our campaign, including Calvert Group Ltd., one of the nation’s largest socially-responsible asset management companies and Galen Films, the producer of the documentary film Stolen Childhoods, which contains a powerful segment on children working in U.S. agriculture. The Ramsay Merriam Fund, a long-time supporter of the CLC, the Public Education Network, and the La Fe Policy Research and Education Center of San Antonio have also publically asked Congress to pass CARE.

In all, 73 groups have stood up and said it’s time to end the injustice of child labor in U.S. agriculture. If your organization would like to join our campaign, please write to Reid Maki at for additional information. If you support an organization that you would like to endorse CARE, please contact it and ask it to lend their voice to the protection of America’s most vulnerable child workers by endorsing CARE.