National Consumers League

Child Labor Coalition applauds the introduction of two congressional bills to reduce dangerous child labor in U.S. agriculture

June 13, 2017

Washington, DC—The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) and its 35 members applaud the re-introduction late yesterday of two congressional bills that would significantly reduce child labor in U.S. agriculture and largely equalize child labor laws for wage-earning children on farms with current rules for non-farm work.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-CA) re-introduced the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act, removing the exemptions that prevent the nation’s child labor laws from applying to children who work for wages on farms.

“A 12-year-old is not allowed to work in our air-conditioned office,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League and a co-chair of the CLC. “Yet, that same child is allowed to work unlimited hours, seven days a week on a farm, performing back-breaking work.”

CARE would also raise the age at which children laboring on farms can perform hazardous work from 16 to 18, which is the norm for all non-farm work. “We lose far too many children to work accidents on farms,” said CLC Coordinator Reid Maki. “This change is long overdue.”

“Child farmworkers work at far younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than children are allowed to work in any other industry. It’s time to end this double standard in U.S. law and ensure they have the same protections as other working youth,” said CLC-member Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Under CARE, children who work on their family’s farm would continue to be exempt from child labor laws so they may learn farming skills from their parents.

Yesterday, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) also reintroduced legislation—the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Fields Act—that would ban child labor in U.S. tobacco fields.

“In the last Congress, more than 60 organizations endorsed this legislation, which is critical to protect child farmworkers from nicotine poisoning and unnecessary pesticide exposure,” said Norma Flores López, the CLC’s Domestic Issues Committee chair. “Impoverished farmworker children should not be asked to help harvest such a dangerous crop.”

“Senator Durbin and Congressman Cicilline get it,” said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley, also a member of the CLC. “We don’t let kids consume tobacco products; we sure shouldn’t let kids risk their lives to produce them.”

“The proposed ban on child labor in tobacco and the CARE Act would go far to protect child farmworkers from well-established work dangers,” said CLC Co-Chair Dr. Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, who added that child labor and migration have a profound impact on the education of child farmworkers. “More than half of children who regularly work on farms will not graduate from high school. That is unacceptable. Until all children, regardless of where they are born, have the same opportunity to receive an education, we will continue advocating and fighting on their behalf.”

“Yesterday marked the global celebration of World Day Against Child Labor,” said NCL’s Greenberg. “We would like to thank Rep. Roybal-Allard, Rep. Cicilline, and Senator Durbin for standing up for America’s most vulnerable workers—farmworker children.”  

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About the Child Labor Coalition

The Child Labor Coalition, which has 35 member organizations, represents consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad. The CLC’s website and membership list can be found at www.stopchildlabor.org.