While the Fair Labor Standards Act and state regulations eliminated the worst forms of child labor, they did not end abuses entirely. The Violation Tracker run by Good Jobs First documents more than 4,000 cases over the past two decades in which an employer paid a penalty for breaking the rules. The fines imposed in these cases amount to $99 million, or an average of about $24,000 per case — a reflection of the fact that penalty levels are far from harsh.
Most child labor violators are small firms, but some large corporations have also committed the offense. Chipotle Mexican Grill has the highest penalty total, mainly due to a $7.75 million settlement the company reached in 2022 with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. An audit conducted by the agency of Chipotle outlets had found over 30,000 violations across the state. Two years earlier, Chipotle reached a $1.87 million settlement with the Massachusetts Attorney General over child labor and other wage and hour violations.
Among the other big companies with substantial child labor penalties from multiple cases are: CVS Health ($464,099), Albertsons ($337,790) and Walmart ($317,378).
Most child labor violations are related to potential harm to young workers, but there are also cases in which the harm is real and even deadly. A 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office cited estimates that workers aged 17 and under sustain thousands of injuries each year. That same report included data showing that work-related fatalities for that same age group totaled 452 for the period from 2003 to 2016. The largest numbers of deaths were in agriculture, followed by construction and mining.
The sensible response to all these statistics would be to tighten the rules regarding child labor, not to weaken them. There are better ways to address labor shortages.
Originally published by Dirt Diggers Digest.