WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — New legislation to combat child labor in the United States was introduced Wednesday in the wake of a New York Times investigation into migrant child labor.
The exploitation of migrant children is on the rise, U.S. Representative Hillary Scholten of Michigan said during the announcement of the new legislation.
Scholten is the Democratic representative for Michigan's 3rd District, which was home to one of the businesses alleged to have exploited migrant child labor.
The New York Times investigation from February of 2023 found companies across the nation, including Hearthside Food Solutions, a maker of snack bars, cookies, cereal and more, were violating child labor laws.
During Scholten's announcement of the legislation, which is co-sponsored by Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace, she recalled receiving a phone call from a constituent about the Times investigation.
"As soon as I received the news, I took immediate action and I mean immediate," Scholten said. "I received a call from a constituent flagging me to the breaking news. I hung up the phone and literally called the White House."
Scholten said that she urged the Biden administration to create an inter-agency task force to proactively address these violations.
The result was the creation of an inter-agency task force between the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services to proactively enforce the laws.
But one thing that she found hindered this new task force's abilities was a very outdated set of penalties for violating the law.
“As a mother, it’s heartbreaking to see stories of children subjected to illegal work conditions here in the United States,” said Mace. “It is our responsibility to protect children and ensure they are not subjected to the exploitation of child labor. The current penalty is not enough of a deterrence, and we must send a strong message which shows the exploitation of children will not be tolerated in any form.”
The new legislation, called the Justice for Exploited Children Act, seeks to amend the civil penalties for companies who violate child labor standards established in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.
The bill, only two pages in length, simply changes the minimum and maximum monetary penalties for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The current law can only issue a fine to a company that violates the child labor standards a maximum of $15,138. It also allows fines of up to $68,801 if a company violates the child labor standards that cause death or serious injury.
If the Justice for Exploited Children Act makes it into law, the fines would change to:
- Violation of child labor standards
- Max: $132,270
- Min: $5,000
- Violation of child labor standards that causes serious injury or death
- Max: $601,150
- Min: $25,000
The fines are also indexed to inflation and will rise or fall over time based on that factor.
“As a mom and a lawmaker, protecting kids is a top priority of mine. We can do so much more to make sure children are protected from exploitation in the workforce, and so I'm doing it,” said Scholten.
“These civil penalties have not been changed since the laws were first established in 1938. We’ve crafted this bill in a simple, focused way so that it can hopefully get quick passage and immediately be used as a tool for protecting kids. This is not a controversial piece of legislation, it is a commonsense, bi-partisan one–and I’m committed to taking it to the finish line.”
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