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Bill in Congress poses stronger penalties for child labor violations

United State capitol in Washington, D.C. © iStock - Muni Yogeshwaran
Edwin J. Viera

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(Connecticut News Service) A bill in Congress with a Connecticut House sponsor aims to reduce child labor in the United States.

Called the "Children Harmed in Life-Threatening or Dangerous Labor Act," its aim is to strengthen current child labor laws and increase civil penalties for companies violating them. And the bill puts a new wrinkle on protections: It allows the Secretary of Labor to label goods produced with child labor, and to issue a 'stop work' order for any person violating child labor laws.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the bill's House sponsor, described its importance.

"This is in response to industry, to have more workers -- more than likely who are underpaid -- and that they can get cheap labor for doing the jobs that they are doing, and taking risks with children," DeLauro explained. "There is a labor shortage, so they're looking to children."

The Economic Policy Institute reported 10 states introduced or passed bills rolling back child labor protections in the last two years.

The Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division concluded almost 1,000 investigations, uncovering child labor violations, an 88 percent increase since 2019. The bill has been introduced in both chambers of Congress.

Ultimately, the goal is to have stiffer penalties in place for companies that ignore child labor laws. DeLauro acknowledged backers of the bill expect some opposition, most likely from states rolling back protections and industries using underage workers.

"We've got a very strong meat packing industry -- I mention Tyson, JBS, Turkey Valley Farms -- and Packers Sanitation Services provides cleaning services at these meat processing facilities," DeLauro outlined. "I'm going to anticipate that we're going to see industry come out of the woodwork in opposition."

Some companies are already being held accountable with civil penalties. A meatpacking plant owned by Tennessee-based Monogram Meats Snacks was fined a little more than $140,000 for employing children. However, the company made more than $1 billion in 2021.