March 03, 2023

Duckworth, Durbin Join Colleagues to Introduce Bill to Help Stop Child Labor


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) in introducing 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.

“No child should be forced to work, much less forced to work in dangerous conditions,” said Duckworth. “I’m proud to help introduce this legislation with Senators Durbin and Schatz to crack down on abusive employers, prevent child labor and strengthen our laws so they truly protect our youngest Americans from being taken advantage of.”

“Under current federal law, employers get little more than a slap on the wrist for skirting labor laws by employing children,” said Durbin.  “With the Child Labor Prevention Act, we are sending a clear warning to employers who illegally saddle children with work that their illicit actions will not go unchecked.” 

“Right now, our laws are allowing some of the worst employers get away with exploiting kids for labor with nothing more than weak fines,” said Schatz. “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 (DOL) 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 (FLSA) 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, DOL 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, DOL 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 FLSA 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:

  1. Increase maximum employer civil penalties from:
    1. $5,000 minimum – $132,270 maximum for routine violations; and
    2. $25,000 minimum – $601,150 maximum for each violation that causes the death or serious injury of a minor.
  1. Establish cri minal 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;
  2. Ensure that all working minors, regardless of classification, are covered by the existing protections in the FLSA; and
  3. Index all penalties to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) to ensure they increase over time.

Along with Duckworth, Durbin and Schatz, this legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators John Fetterman (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).