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More US Child Workers Die in Agriculture Than in Any Other Industry

New US Government Report Highlights Dangers Caused by Weak Child Labor Laws

By Margaret Wurth

 

More than half of work-related deaths among children in the US occur in agriculture, according to a new US government report published this week. This happens despite the fact that farms employ less than six percent of child workers, highlighting the devastating consequences of weak laws and regulations that don’t properly protect child farmworkers.

The report was prepared by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the request of congressional representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard from California and Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut.

My colleagues and I have interviewed hundreds of child farmworkers in the US in recent years. They’ve told us harrowing stories of working long hours in extreme heat, using sharp tools and heavy machinery, and climbing to dangerous heights with nothing to protect them from falling. Many are exposed to toxic pesticides, and on tobacco farms, children face the added risk of being exposed to nicotine, a neurotoxin.

Under federal labor law, children at the age of 12 can legally work unlimited hours on farms of any size with parental permission, as long as they don’t miss school. There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms or family farms. By law, children working in agriculture can do jobs at age 16 that health and safety experts deem particularly hazardous. In all other sectors, workers must be 18 to do hazardous work.  

The report clearly shows that these gaps in laws designed to protect young workers leave child farmworkers vulnerable to serious injuries and death.… Read the rest

New GAO Report Raises Concern over the Health and Safety of Child Farmworkers in the United States

 For immediate release: December 6, 2018

Contact: Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org 

 

Washington, DC–In the wake of a new child labor report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) joins Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in voicing concern for the health and safety of 2.5 million U.S. children who work for wages, particularly those who toil in sectors like agriculture with elevated injury and fatality rates.

“The scourge of child labor still haunts America,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League and a co-chair of the CLC.

The new report “Working Children: Federal Injury Data and Compliance Strategies Could Be Strengthened” (November 2018) updates a 2002 GAO report on child labor in the United States. Earlier this week, the GAO issued the updated report, which had been requested by Reps. Roybal-Allard and DeLauro last year. Despite the difference of 16 years, the two reports reached similar conclusions, calling for better data. The new report also called for better coordination between the Wage and Hour Division and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—both entities at the Department of Labor—to enforce child labor laws.

The GAO found that while fewer than 5.5 percent of working children in the United States toiled on farms, the agricultural sector accounted for more than 50 percent of child labor fatalities. In the years 2003 to 2016, 237 children died in farm-related work accidents, representing four times the number of deaths of any other sector (construction and mining had 59 over the 14 year period).

“The GAO report’s findings are damning,” said Roybal-Allard and Rep. DeLauro in a joint statement. “This report confirms that child labor is contributing to a devastating amount of fatalities in the United States—disproportionately so in the agricultural sector. In that industry, kids are often exposes exposed to dangerous pesticides, heavy machinery, and extreme heat, and they are being killed as a result. That is unacceptable.”

The study examined recent data on children at work as well as child work fatalities and injuries and found significant data gaps and misaligned data. A data survey pilot project that sought improved data on workers ignored children entirely; it excluded “household children and working children on farms employing 10 or fewer workers,” noted the report’s authors, who concluded “DOL is missing opportunities to more accurately quantify injuries and illnesses to children, which could better inform its compliance and enforcement efforts.”

“The updated GAO report supports what child advocates have been seeing on the ground: the number of working children in the US has been on the rise since 2011, while child labor continues to decrease around the world,” says Norma Flores Lopez, chair of the CLC’s Domestic Issues Committee. “American working children are inadequately protected while working in dangerous—sometimes fatal—industries, including agriculture.  The U.S. Department of Labor must take immediate action to better protect our children by implementing the report’s recommendations. By providing equal protections for all working children, the US DOL can improve its effectiveness in enforcing child labor laws and keep children safe.”

“The Child Labor Coalition has worked for nearly 30 years to safeguard child workers on farms,” said Reid Maki, director of child labor advocacy for NCL and coordinator of the CLC.  “The United States has had glaringly weak agricultural child labor laws since the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act in the late 1930s. We allow children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours in agriculture, despite its known dangers.”

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10 Facts about Child Labor in Turkey’s Hazelnut Production

  • Child labor in Turkey remains prevalent. In 2012, around 900,000 children worked in Turkey. 45 percent of Child laborers worked in agriculture. Children make up to 8.5 percent of the workforce in hazelnut supply chains.
  • Two to three million Turkish agricultural workers derive some income from hazelnut production. Seasonal agricultural workers are especially dependent on hazelnut production.
  • The majority of these harvesters are from the southeast region of Turkey which borders Syria. However, hazelnuts are grown throughout the eastern and westerns regions along the Black Sea, requiring harvesters to migrate throughout the season. Syrian refugee children and other immigrant children are vulnerable to exploitation in the agricultural sector.
  • Syrian refugee and other children were also vulnerable to exploitation in the agriculture sector, where Syrian families tended to receive lower pay and live in worse conditions than Turkish workers.
  • Migratory workers tend to travel with their families. Children often work in the fields with their parents to increase their family income.  However, the harsh nature and span of seasonal migratory work inhibit the development of these children.
  • 90 percent of hazelnut harvesters work 11 hours per day; 99 percent of harvesters work 7 days a week. Children often work the same hours as their parents and are often, unable to attend school.  Even when a child is not working alongside their parents, the migratory nature of seasonal agricultural work does not allow children to consistently attend school.
  • Seasonal migrant laborers involved in the hazelnut supply chain are typically involved in other agricultural supply chains.
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127 Groups Ask EPA Not to Reverse Ban on Pesticide Application by Children

Dear Administrator Pruitt:

The undersigned organizations write to oppose any changes by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to the requirements in the Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (“WPS”) and Certification of Pesticide Applicators rule (CPA).

Over 15 years ago, an EPA report stated that “pesticide poisoning in the United States remains under-recognized and under-treated…despite the ubiquity of pesticides in our homes, workplaces, and communities, and despite the considerable potential for pesticide-related illnesses and injury.” Farmworkers have one of the highest rates of chemical exposures among U.S. workers and they suffer acute pesticide poisoning every year through occupational exposures and pesticide drift. Studies have shown that agricultural workers suffer serious short- and long-term health effects from exposure to pesticides. The WPS and CPA rules provide vital protections from exposure to toxic pesticides for hired farmworkers, pesticide applicators, their families and the general public in communities across the United States. In revising these rules, the EPA recognized that the weight of evidence suggests that the new requirements, “will result in long-term health benefits to agricultural workers, pesticide handlers,” and “to certified and noncertified applicators, as well as to the public and the environment.”

After more than a decade of stakeholder input and analysis, the EPA revised the WPS and CPA rule to prevent injury and illness to the children, women and men who work around pesticides in agriculture, or who come into contact with pesticides in other settings. EPA found that the new safeguards are necessary to address the known dangers associated with pesticide use. The WPS applies to hired workers and pesticide handlers who labor in farms, fields, nurseries, greenhouses and forests. The CPA rule governs the training and certification requirements of workers who apply Restricted Use Pesticides (“RUPs”) in a variety of settings, including homes, schools, hospitals, as well as agricultural and industrial establishments. RUPs are some of the most toxic and dangerous pesticides on the market.

 

We are concerned that the EPA may weaken critical safeguards meant to protect agricultural workers, the public, and the environment. Among the many important provisions in the rules, the Agency has stated its intent to reconsider the minimum age protections that prohibit children from applying pesticides, the right of farmworkers to access pesticide application information through a designated representative, and protections for bystanders through “application exclusion zones,” which require that an applicator suspend pesticide application if “an unprotected/non-trained person” enters the area around the application equipment.

Undermining these important protections cannot be justified. We urge you to preserve the existing protections and to move forward with full implementation and enforcement.

Respectfully,

127 child, faith, agricultural, health, labor, human rights, consumer and environmental groups, including the Child Labor Coalition have signed the letter.

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