The U.S. is witnessing an unprecedented number of child labor law violations taking place all over the country. Automotive companies such as Hyundai, and Kia, as well as food packaging companies such as Packers Santitation Services LLC, which service companies like McDonald’s, Chipotle, and Dunkin Donuts have all recently been cited for violations. These are just a few of the most egregious offenders who have been accused of employing minors in dangerous, sometimes toxic working conditions. Many of the children involved are undocumented and are residing in the U.S. on the basis of asylum, staying with host families that have very little incentive to oversee these children or offer them any sort of protection. Their vulnerability to labor law violations stems mainly from the unforgiving policies aimed toward migrants crossing the border during the Trump Administration. These “Zero Tolerance policies” see migrant families separated at the border, where parents are contained in immigration centers while children are forced into a version of the foster system until their families can be contacted or they are processed through ICE. It is these political factors that ultimately determine the economic drivers of illicit labor.
The main economic determinant for hiring illicit labor is cost. Employing undocumented laborers allows companies to circumvent the costs of providing benefits including healthcare, sick leave, and medical compensation. Additionally, these children are easily exploited due to the absence of their parents and lack the agency to remove themselves from potentially dangerous working conditions. As a result, these children are viewed as the cheapest possible labor as they have no ability to represent themselves or remove themselves from dangerous situations. This has been coupled with a push by lobbyists and GOP policymakers to loosen the restrictions on labor laws for 14 and 15-year-olds to expand the scope of work they are legally allowed to do. One such bill, which has been proposed by Iowa legislatures, even goes so far as to make companies exempt from “civil liability due to a company’s negligence”. In other words, the bill would protect corporations from any sort of due diligence to mitigate the damage of the work being done to its workers. Not only is the concept of corporate exemption from liability laughable, but it’s incredibly disheartening that such an issue is even being contested when the need for labor protections for minors was recognized over 100 years ago. I truly hope America is willing to put morality ahead of corporate profits as these bills would mark a significant step backward in labor rights for every child in the United States.