Corporations are bringing back child labor in America.
And some Republicans want to make it easier for them to get away with it.
Since 2015, child labor violations have risen nearly 300%. And those are just the violations government investigators have managed to uncover and document.
The Department of Labor says it’s currently investigating over 600 cases of illegal child labor in America. Major American companies like General Mills, Walmart, and Ford have all been implicated.
Why on Earth is this happening? The answer is frighteningly simple: greed.
Employers have been having difficulty finding the workers they need at the wages they are willing to pay. Rather than reduce their profits by paying adult workers more, employers are exploiting children.
The sad fact of the matter is that many of the children who are being exploited are considered to be “them” rather than “us” because they’re disproportionately poor and immigrant. So the moral shame of subjecting “our” children to inhumane working conditions when they ought to be in school is quietly avoided.
And since some of these children (or their parents) are undocumented, they dare not speak out or risk detention and deportation. They need the money. This makes them easily exploitable.
It’s a perfect storm that’s resulting in vulnerable children taking on some of the most brutal jobs.
Folks, we’ve seen this before.
Reformers fought to establish the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 for a reason — to curb the grotesque child labor seen during America’s first Gilded Age.
The U.S. banned most child labor.
But now, pro-business trade groups and their Republican lackeys are trying to reverse nearly a century of progress, and they’re using the so-called “labor shortage” as their excuse.
Arkansas will no longer require 14 and 15 year olds to get a work permit before taking a job — a process that verified their age and required permission from a parent or guardian.
A bill in Ohio would let children work later on school nights.
Minnesota Republicans are pushing to let 16 year-olds work in construction.
And 14-year-olds in Iowa may soon be allowed to take certain jobs in meatpacking plants and operate dangerous machinery.
It’s all a coordinated campaign to erode national standards, making it even easier for companies to profit off children.
Across America, we’re witnessing a resurgence of cruel capitalism in which business lobbyists and lawmakers justify their actions by arguing that they are not exploiting the weak and vulnerable, but rather providing jobs for those who need them and would otherwise go hungry or homeless.
Conveniently, these same business lobbyists and lawmakers are often among the first to claim we “can’t afford” stronger safety nets that would provide these children with safe housing and adequate nutrition.
So what can stop this madness?
First: Fund the Department of Labor so it can crack down on child labor violations. When I was Secretary of Labor, the department was chronically underfunded and understaffed. It still is, because lawmakers and their corporate backers want it that way.
Second: Increase fines on companies that break child labor laws. Current fines are too low, and are treated as costs of doing business by hugely profitable companies that violate the law.
Third: Hold major corporations accountable. Many big corporations contract with smaller companies that employ children, which allows the big corporations to play dumb and often avoid liability. It’s time to demand that large corporations take responsibility for their supply chains.
Fourth: Reform immigration laws so undocumented children aren’t exploited.
And lastly: Organize. Fight against state laws that are attempting to bring back child labor.
Are corporate profits really more important than the safety of children?
Read it on Robert Reich’s blog.
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