American Public: Young Farmworkers Deserve Equal Protection of Child Labor Laws– Consumer Survey Finds Americans Concerned about Youth Working in Ag;

Most Parents Would Restrict their Teens More than Current Laws
Washington, DC – The vast majority of American consumers do not believe 12- and 13-year-olds should be allowed to perform agricultural work for long hours in the fields and would not allow their own children to work on a commercial farm at ages that the government currently allows, according to a survey released today. The survey, commissioned by the National Consumers League (NCL), the organization largely responsible for passing many of the nation’s first laws restricting child labor, reveals that most consumers—four out of five—agree that child labor laws should protect children equally no matter what industry they work in. Two in three survey respondents “strongly agreed” that protections should be equal. Only 1 in 7 favored unequal protection for agriculture.

Only 3 percent of those surveyed would let their own children under the age of 14 works more than 40 hours a week in the fields. Yet, federal law allows farmworker children to work unlimited hours in the fields outside of school hours and many farmworker children report working 60 or 70 hours a week.

Although it is not a well-known phenomenon among the general public, many migrant farmworker children work long hours in the fields with their parents harvesting fruits and vegetables. The children often begin working at the age of 12 because of exemptions in U.S. child labor law that excludes the agriculture industry from many labor protections.

The vast majority surveyed—83 percent–emphatically said that it is “not okay” for children as young as 12 and 13 to work long hour in the fields. Only 1 in 8 surveyed—and only 1 in 10 women– said that the practice is okay.

When asked what age they would let their own children work in the fields after school and during weekends, only 13 percent—or 1 in 8 respondents—said that they would let their child work under the age of 14—a common practice in the agriculture industry today.

When it comes to working long hours—more than 40 hours—in the fields, the majority of those surveyed (64 percent) said that they would only let their children do it if they were over 18.

“These survey results demonstrate that the public feels strongly that young children should not be toiling in the fields,” said Sally Greenberg, the executive director of NCL and a co-chair of the CLC. “A bill before Congress has languished for over a decade, despite providing much needed protections for farmworker kids. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard has tirelessly tried to remedy this tragic problem through the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), which would remove the exemptions that threaten the health, safety, and education of these children. The passage of the CARE Act is long overdue.”

The survey also confirmed that Americans seem concerned that the food they purchase is not tainted by child labor. Nearly 6 in 10 survey respondents—59 percent—disagreed that “it is acceptable for a child under 14 to work for wages in the fields, harvesting produce to be sold in grocery stores.” An even larger percentage—67 percent—said that the U.S. should not import products made or harvested by children under the age of 14.

Americans expressed their desire that adult farmworkers earn a living wage—87 percent agreed that the men and women who harvest fruits and vegetables should receive a sustainable wage. Seven in 10 surveyed “strongly agreed” that this should be the case. Despite this, government data suggests that most farmworker families get by on $17,000 a year—about one-third of the living wage calculated for a family of four in one farmworker community (Eagle Pass, Texas) that we checked.

“If Americans knew how truly dangerous farms are as workplaces, they would be even more outraged by this form of child labor,” said Reid Maki, coordinator of the CLC and NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards. “One of our main concerns is the impact pesticides might be having on these kids who work long hours in treated fields, often with little or no protection.”

NCL, which coordinates the 28-member CLC, commissioned Opinion Research to conduct a national random-sample telephone survey of 1,011 adults in early June to gain an understanding of consumers’ views on child labor in American commercial agriculture.

Currently, U.S. law allows children as young as 12 years old to legally work in commercial agriculture, while children of the same age are prohibited from working in nearly all other industries (with only a few exceptions such as delivering newspapers). An estimated 400,000 to 500,000 children work America’s fields, often working eight-hour, nine-hour, and ten-hour backbreaking shifts in intense heat, often exposed to pesticide application, runoff, and drift.  While only about eight percent of youth are employed in agriculture, the industry comprises 40 percent of child worker fatalities.

For additional information regarding the survey results:

Please contact Reid Maki (202-207-2820) or Daniel Dahlman (202-207-2832).

Release Date: June 16, 2011