america with worst child labor report
I have squatted alongside children on enormous mounds of foul garbage in India, assisting them as they dug through trash in search of tiny objects they thought they could sell or use. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I have waited at the 2-foot openings of shaky hand-dug mines for 9-year-olds to crawl out carrying the minerals that illuminate the laptop I’m writing on.
In hot factories in Cambodia, I observed kids working on assembly lines to create roller bag suitcases. Young girls, some of whom were pregnant or even nursing infants who had just been born, were frequently used for sex by adult men in Kenya and many other places.
We find something, See child labor in America with us –
And that’s how Americans have always viewed child labor: as an outrage of human rights abuses occurring “over there” in developing nations with economies that are very dissimilar from our own. The New York Times’s recent investigations into what is happening in the United States have dispelled that myth.
We believe that “we have child labor laws here.” Thus, we act. These laws are made to stop kids from working at all and to restrict the number of hours school-age kids can work.
We know that those laws are being broken, most egregiously by those who are abusing the most vulnerable workers of all: underage migrant workers, who work under conditions that are akin to indentured and slave labor in every state right here at home.
The moral crisis of child labor
In addition to breaking their backs on the vast fields and farms of big agriculture, where they may be days’ worth of walking away from any place they could seek assistance, these child workers are frequently isolated and without any kind of adult protection. They also work long hours on physically hazardous factory assembly lines and, as The Times has documented, carry out a variety of tasks that support our economy and make our lives easier.
As it turns out, a surprising number of our favorite retailers and brands—including Target, Walmart, J. Crew, Whole Foods, Ben & Jerry’s, and my grandmother’s favorite, General Mills’ Cheerios—are supported by child labor.
The victims frequently work through the night while trying to go to school during the day; many give up on such an impossible-to-maintain schedule. They risk facing reprisals if they enquire about the terms of their employment. By adult men, girls are frequently the target of sexual harassment and coercion.
One labor inspector was employed by the U.S. government for every 69,000 workers in 1978, a glaringly insufficient ratio. By 2018, each investigator was in charge of monitoring 175,000 workers, a significant increase from the prior year.
The Biden administration can quickly address this understaffing of Wage and Hour inspectors. However, it was not included in the administration’s plan for dealing with the moral crisis of child labor in America. It has to be. Otherwise, we participate in the vast criminal enterprise known as human trafficking, which includes both sex and labor trafficking.
Our laws are only as effective as how we enforce them.
The Polaris Project, which tracks its activities in North America and runs the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, defines human trafficking as the practice of robbing people of their freedom to make money. 25 million people are denied freedom worldwide thanks to a multibillion-dollar criminal industry.
Only when greedy, unscrupulous employers are not held accountable by the labor inspectors who are supposed to be our eyes and ears in fields and factories can labor trafficking in general and child labor in the particular flourish.
This lack of enforcement has negative effects on both economic activity and human rights. Bad actors in the labor market can operate with impunity, which leads to a race to the bottom in terms of pay and working conditions that affect competitors and every area of our economy.
Everyone wants to reduce the cost of labor. It cannot be carried out at the expense of and on the backs of children. Children should be in school, not working graveyard shifts to earn money they must later remit to coyotes, traffickers, and dishonest sponsors, whether they live in America or elsewhere.
Therefore, employers must abide by the fundamental decency standards of the modern workplace following laws. Our laws are only as effective as how they are applied. An essential first step towards holding abusers accountable for their actions is the hiring and deployment of Wage and Hour inspectors to be present on the ground to monitor and report the use of child labor.
Let the outrage that has already started to flare up burn brightly, illuminating this cruelty until it is banished from our shores.