September 23, 2008
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WASHINGTON, DC – At a subcommittee hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor, where members gathered to consider this question: “Child Labor Enforcement: Are We Adequately Protecting our Children,” Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League (NCL), issued a resounding “no.” According to Greenberg, who spoke to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections for NCL, whose history has deep roots in concern for the welfare of child laborers, “much more can and must be done to better protect our young people from the hazards and dangers they confront in the workplace.”
Greenberg cited federal government statistics that reveal a harrowing reality: every 10 days in America, a young person is killed on the job. Every day, more than 100 young workers under the age of 19 are seriously injured or become ill from their work. Greenberg’s testimony focused onthe U.S. Department of Labor’s poor enforcement of the federal child labor laws and recommendations for reforms—both at the department and in legislature to be considered by Congress—to strengthen protections for America’s working children.
“Enforcement of the child labor law is no longer a high priority for DOL,” Greenberg said, citing declines in both the number of investigations and time spent on them by DOL. Further, Greenberg argued, the penalties imposed by DOL aren’t strong enough to deter corporations, especially large companies, from violating child labor law, and agriculture, an industry that employs an estimated half-million minors and poses some of the biggest dangers to working youth, sees disproportionately low enforcement.
Greenberg’s called for increases in DOL investigations and in penalties for violators, updated, tougher regulations, and investigations specifically into two industries: agriculture and meatpacking. Referring to recent investigations into child labor abuses at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, Greenberg urged DOL not to “look the other way,” as abusive employers have been revealed to do. “Given that meat processing plants tend to attract an impoverished, mostly immigrant work force, the possibility that child laborers may be employed in slaughterhouses around the nation should be investigated by U.S. DOL with vigor.”
About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.