Increasing Child Labour Risks at US Factories


A recent investigation by The Centre has identified child labour cases in the US supply chain of a major retailer. Conducted as part of The Centre’s child labour remediation service, this investigation confirmed child labour in a Colorado factory where 5 children under the age of 15 years old were found to have violated the working hour limit. According to the regulations for minors under 16, they are only allowed to work for a maximum of eight hours when schools are not in session. This violation also contradicts the minimum target requirement age in the US, which is 15 years old. 

 

These confirmed cases come amidst growing reports of minors being employed in dangerous jobs in meatpacking plants in the US. Packers Sanitation Services, based in Wisconsin, recently paid $1.5 million to the US Department of Labor after an investigation found it employed children in dangerous jobs in eight different states.

 

There has been continued pushback against protections which were put in place to safeguard these vulnerable young workers, with bills being passed in states like Ohio[1], Wisconsin[2], and New Jersey, that expand the number of hours children under 16 can work. Even more concerning is Arkansas’ recent Youth Hiring Act 2023, which rolls back requirements for the state to verify the ages of workers under 16 and provide these children with certificates permitting them to work.

 

Governments, businesses, and society have a key role to play in addressing child labour and protecting vulnerable children from exploitation. Where governments fail to offer adequate protections for children, it is vital that business uphold international labour standards. This means ensuring that young workers who are above legal working age (as specified by state labour laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are well-informed about their rights, and are provided with access to decent work opportunities. 

 

For children who are working, it’s crucial that economic activities do not threaten their academic success.  Indeed, in the Colorado case one child is a high achiever who ranks 15th out of 450 students in her year. She dreams of studying mechatronics engineering in college. It’s paramount that children like her have the time and resources to focus on their studies and grow up free from the burden of excessive work.

 

Our investigation in Colorado found that the factory had complete personnel files, indicating that the factory was aware of the children's age, but there were no policies or procedures in place covering recruitment, prohibition of child labour, or offering protections for juvenile workers. As a result, the children were not aware of their rights and no effort was taken to protect them from hazardous work. 

 

The Centre has developed a remediation plan for the Colorado factory which includes consultation and follow-up support to establish an effective and responsible recruitment mechanism to help mitigate the risk of hiring underage children in the future. The plan also recommends that vocational or educational training be offered to the children who have been exploited for labour. Unfortunately the factory has not yet committed to fully engage with remediation activities, and discussions with the facility are ongoing.

 

The Centre continues to expand its work to protect and advance child rights in supply chains worldwide, with projects covering agriculture and manufacturing sectors. Our team of fully trained child labour case managers are available to provide our child labour remediation service for your business and supply chain. 

 

Please contact us if you need support to conduct a child labour risk assessment or would like more details on our child labour remediation support in the US or other countries.



[1] http://www.legiscan.com/OH/bill/SB251/2021

[2] https://docs.legis.wisconscin.gov/2021/proposals/sb332


Published on 22/03/2023

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