DOL Taking Steps to Combat Exploitative Child Labor

DOL Taking Steps to Combat Exploitative Child Labor

July 31, 2023
A co-ordinated federal effort to protect children from exploitative situations following a 69% increase in findings of illegal child labor between 2018 and 2022.

On July 25, DOL and its partners from the Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation announced their recent actions to hold companies accountable for violating federal child labor laws.

The update follows the department’s  February 2023 announcement of the task force’s formation, which applies a whole-of-government approach to enhance federal efforts to protect children from exploitative situations following a 69% increase in findings of illegal child labor between 2018 and 2022.

Since the launch of these enhanced efforts, the department and task force have engaged with agencies across federal, state and local governments, resulting in new collaborative initiatives to prevent and address illegal child labor, that include the following:

 Increasing focus on vigorously enforcing federal law and holding employers accountable:

  • The department’s Wage and Hour Division has significantly enhanced child labor enforcement efforts. Between Oct. 1, 2022 and July 20, 2023, as a result of this stepped-up enforcement, the agency concluded 765 child labor cases finding 4,474 children employed in violation of federal child labor laws and assessed employers with more than $6.6 million in penalties. These cases reflect a 44% increase in children found employed in violation of federal law and an 87% increase in penalties assessed from the same time period in the previous fiscal year. In addition, the agency is currently pursuing more than 700 open child labor cases. This enforcement data demonstrates the department’s commitment to identifying and addressing child labor violations more aggressively than in the department’s history.

Emphasizing cross-training to ensure that every agency has the necessary skills to identify and report possible incidences of child labor exploitation:

  • Partner agencies have intensified information-sharing and cross-training to ensure agencies across the federal government understand child labor exploitation and the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address it.
  • On June 12, 2023, HHS’ Administration for Children and Families marked World Day Against Child Labor with a training for nearly 400 ACF staff to help them identify possible instances of child labor exploitation in their day-to-day work with grantees and external partners throughout the country.
  • In addition to collaborating closely with the agencies participating in the task force, the Department of Labor has engaged with the departments of Defense, Energy, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Treasury, and with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Corporation for National and Community Service, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the U.S. Agency for International Development on how to identify, prevent and report child labor exploitation.

 Updating and creating new materials to ensure partners, employers, and the general public are armed with the information needed to prevent child labor violations:

  • The Wage and Hour Division has updated its child labor website and additional resources to clarify and streamline information for children, parents, employers and educators about federal child labor laws, including providing clear information about dangerous and prohibited jobs and, additionally, explaining ways to provide positive and safe work experiences for teens.
  • Given the importance of promoting understanding of labor law for youth-specific audiences, the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services are developing shareable, easily accessible “Know Your Rights” videos in multiple languages.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is identifying opportunities to share resources and to have the Department of Labor engage key state and local partners and public stakeholders on federal labor law and efforts to combat child labor exploitation.

Pursuing innovative partnerships and avenues to engage every facet of the federal government:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ National Human Trafficking Prevention Summit expanded specific sessions and workshops to include child labor exploitation and the impact on youth and their communities for this year’s program.
  • In April 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent a letter to the 18 largest meat and poultry processors, representing approximately 70% of meat and poultry production by volume, requesting that all actors in the food supply chain take important precautionary steps to prevent or eliminate illegal child labor. These steps include determining whether illegal child labor is being used anywhere in their supply chain, incorporating stronger standards in supplier and vendor contracts, and adopting supplier standards that will better guard against the use of illegal child labor. In the months since, USDA has engaged in productive conversations with industry leaders about how they are working to ensure that their supply chains are free of illegal child labor. USDA is continuing to explore enforcement mechanisms and considering aspects of regulatory infrastructure that support the department’s ability to strengthen compliance and provide the necessary attention and oversight.
  • The departments of Labor and Justice are partnering through the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Children to educate custodians of unaccompanied children on federal child labor laws and protections through new materials and information provided during the LOPC orientations.

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