U.S. Sen. Schatz introduces bill to help stop child labor

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U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaiʻi today introduced new legislation to help stop illegal child labor.

The Child Labor Prevention Act would increase maximum fines for violations and establish new criminal penalties to deter child labor and hold employers accountable.

“Right now, our laws are allowing some of the worst employers to get away with exploiting kids for labor with nothing more than weak fines,” Schatz said in a press release. “Our bill will strengthen our child labor laws, hold employers accountable and protect kids from this illicit practice.”

Since 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor has seen a 69 percent increase in children being employed illegally. This is due to companies increasingly circumventing child labor laws to fill positions, which is expected to worsen due to the tight labor market.


Because of this crisis, on Monday the Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Services announced a new effort to combat exploitative child labor, including a call for Congress to increase civil monetary penalties.

Currently, the Fair Labor Standards Act imposes weak fines for violations, making it financially easier for companies to skirt child labor laws. Just this past weekend, it was revealed that migrant child labor is being used for hazardous jobs in factories making products for well-known brands like Cheetos, Fruit of the Loom and Lucky Charms.

In addition, last month, the Department of Labor announced it found more than 100 children across eight states cleaning dangerous meat processing equipment using hazardous chemicals for a contractor of major meat producer JBS Foods.


While several child workers were injured on the job, the Department of Labor levied its maximum fine, just $15,138 for each count.

In some instances, employers have also begun classifying children as independent contractors, using a loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act that prohibits the employment of minors, but allows companies to use them as independent contractors.

To stop child labor and hold employers accountable, the Child Labor Prevention Act would:

  • Increase maximum employer civil penalties from $5,000 minimum to $132,270 maximum for routine violations
  • Increase 25,000 minimum to $601,150 maximum for each violation that causes the death or serious injury of a minor
  • Establish criminal penalties for a repeat or willful violation of child labor laws to include a fine of up to $50,000 and a year in jail
  • Ensure that all working minors, regardless of classification, are covered by the existing protections in the Fair Labor Standards Act
  • Index all penalties to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers to ensure they increase over time.

Schatz’s legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Fetterman (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

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