The Children in the Field Campaign is an effort to extend child labor protections to U.S. agriculture.
The campaign strives to improve the quality of life of migrant and seasonal farmworker children by advocating for enhanced educational opportunities and the elimination of discriminatory federal child labor laws in agriculture.

We must not leave farmworker women out of the harassment discussion

By Norma Flores López

Today’s headlines and top hashtags are showing that a powerful movement is building, and its being led by women.

Women–fed up with the constant attack on our bodies, the sexual harassment prevalent throughout our communities and centuries-long inequities in our homes, at the workplace and in the voting booth– are saying, “Enough.” They are displaying courage by organizing, sharing their powerful stories, casting their votes, and creating an effect that can be felt in the halls of Congress, on the movie sets of Hollywood, and through the airwaves. This movement against misogyny and sexual harassment is indeed powerful. It has made influential men step down from their long-held positions of power, it has stopped an accused pedophile from being elected into the Senate, and even made it to the cover of Time magazine.

And we’re just getting started.

We have seen this type of grassroots movement before–a seismic shift in the power paradigm of society, moving us closer and closer towards equity. Yet, we have never achieved the full promise of equality. The work is left halfway done, and we can’t allow this to happen again. We need to make sure that the movement is able to reach the darkest corners of society, in the marginalized communities where the most vulnerable women work and live. 

For me, this is in the fields.

I grew up in a migrant farmworker family, where I was taught at a young age the power men held over me. Sexual harassment wasn’t the only kind we experienced. The boss had the power to protect me, but also the power to destroy me. A lifetime of hard work earned my father a position of leadership in most of the fields we worked in, which he used to protect his wife and five daughters. While most women endured cat calls, inappropriate prepositions and harassment, we were spared. Still, we knew the dangers that lurked out there and took no chances. My sisters and I never walked to the portable bathrooms (when they were available) by ourselves, making sure a few of us were always together. We never went anywhere by ourselves, in the fields or on the migrant camp. Ever. 

Norma speaks frequently about the struggle to protect child farmworkers. Here she help introduce the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment with actress and activist Eva Longoria and others.

While my father did his best to shield us from these dangers, there were seasons that he wasn’t in charge and our family was separated. We were divided into different teams, each completing different tasks in different fields at any given moment. My mother and I mostly stuck together, and for years, we were in a team under the charge of a middle-aged white man who spoke no Spanish and made it known that he didn’t want to be there. As the season wore on, the work days got longer and his temper got shorter. He became a terror to all of the women working with him. It boiled over and from one day to the next, I became the focus of his fury. I was responsible for the team not completing the work at the pace he wanted. I was responsible for the mistakes made by my teammates. I was responsible for everything that went wrong in the fields. For all of this, I deserved his abuse. He began to hurl insults, curse words, and racial slurs on a daily basis, often at the top of his lungs for everyone in the fields to hear. My mother would stare at me in disbelief and fear, desperate to understand what was happening and to understand his English. “¿Qué te dice, Norma? ¿Qué pasa? (What is he saying? What’s happening?)” she would repeatedly ask me. “Nada, mami,” I would reply, trying to hide the hurt and fear in my voice.

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CLC News Release: Legislation to Protect Child Farmworkers in the US is Re-Introduced

CHILD LABOR COALITION PRESS RELEASE
Child Labor Coalition applauds the introduction of two congressional bills to reduce dangerous child labor in U.S. agriculture

For immediate release: June 13, 2017
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) and its 35 members applaud the re-introduction late yesterday of two congressional bills that would significantly reduce child labor in U.S. agriculture and largely equalize child labor laws for wage-earning children on farms with current rules for non-farm work.

In the U.S., many teens who work in tobacco fields wear plastic garbage bags to try to avoid nicotine poisoning. [Photo courtesy Human Rights Watch]

In the U.S., many teens who work in tobacco fields wear plastic garbage bags to try to avoid nicotine poisoning. [Photo courtesy Human Rights Watch]

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-CA) re-introduced the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act, removing the exemptions that prevent the nation’s child labor laws from applying to children who work for wages on farms.

“A 12-year-old is not allowed to work in our air-conditioned office,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League and a co-chair of the CLC. “Yet, that same child is allowed to work unlimited hours, seven days a week on a farm, performing back-breaking work.”

CARE would also raise the age at which children laboring on farms can perform hazardous work from 16 to 18, which is the norm for all non-farm work. “We lose far too many children to work accidents on farms,” said CLC Coordinator Reid Maki. “This change is long overdue.”

“Child farmworkers work at far younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than children are allowed to work in any other industry. It’s time to end this double standard in U.S. law and ensure they have the same protections as other working youth,” said CLC-member Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

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International Labour Organizaton (ILO) Experts Comment on U.S. Government Efforts to Implement Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

[Adopted in 2016 and published in 2017]
 
Articles 4(1), 5 and 7(1) of the Convention. Determination of types of hazardous work, monitoring mechanisms and penalties. Hazardous work in agriculture from 16 years of age. The Committee previously noted that section 213 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits children aged 16 years and above to undertake, in the agricultural sector, occupations declared to be hazardous or detrimental to their health or well-being by the Secretary of Labor. The Government, referring to Paragraph 4 of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, 1999 (No. 190), stated that Congress considered it as safe and appropriate for children from the age of 16 years to perform work in the agricultural sector. However, the Committee noted the allegation of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) that a significant number of children under 18 years were employed in agriculture under dangerous conditions, including long hours and exposure to pesticides, with risk of serious injury. The Committee also took note of the observations of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) that section 213 of the FLSA, which was the product of extensive consultation with the social partners, is in compliance with the text of the Convention and Paragraph 4 of Recommendation No. 190.
 
The Committee took note that the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) continued to focus on improving the safety of children working in agriculture and protecting the greatest number of agricultural workers. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) increased its focus on agriculture by creating the Office of Maritime and Agriculture (OMA) in 2012, which is responsible for the planning, development and publication of safety and health regulations covering workers in the agricultural industry, as well as guidance documents on specific topics, such as ladder safety in orchards and tractor safety.
 

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CLC Press Release: 47 Members of Congress Ask President Obama to Ban Child Labor in US Tobacco before He Leaves Office

For immediate release: October 18, 2016

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

Washington, DC—

Nearly 50 members of Congress asked President Obama to ban child labor in US tobacco fields in a letter sent to the White House today. US child labor law allows children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours in tobacco fields as long as they are not missing school. “Voluntary policies among tobacco companies have attempted to get children under 16 out of the fields, but it isn’t clear those policies are effective or why they permit 16- and 17-year-old children to do work that is hazardous and makes them ill,” said Sally Greenberg, co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition and the executive director of the National Consumers League.

“We believe that this work is too dangerous for workers under 18,” added Greenberg. “Children working in tobacco fields suffer regular bouts of nicotine poisoning, otherwise known as Green Tobacco Sickness. They are also subjected to dangerous pesticide residues and use razor-sharp tools. We believe tobacco work should be conducted by adults who are better able to deal with the risks, and kids who have to work or who want to work should be re-directed into safer jobs.”

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) authored the letter which asks the president to designate tobacco work for children as “hazardous child labor” and by doing so, render it illegal. Cicilline has been a persistent advocate of protecting US child tobacco workers since a Human Rights Watch report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children—Hazardous Child Labor in United States Tobacco Farming,” found that nearly three out of four child tobacco workers interviewed suffered symptoms that correlated with nicotine poisoning. “Laws that allow children to risk nicotine exposure while working in tobacco fields are hopelessly out of date and put children’s health in jeopardy. President Obama should act immediately to prohibit this hazardous work for children,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

In August, the Child Labor Coalition sent a letter signed by 110 groups, representing tens of millions of Americans, to President Obama urging him to ban child labor in US tobacco before he leaves office. The administration has not responded to the request.

In 2012, under strong pressure from the farm lobby, the Obama administration withdrew long-overdue occupational protections for child farmworkers that would have banned child labor in tobacco while providing several other life-saving protections. “We call on President Obama to rectify this decision and protect child tobacco workers from the dangers of nicotine poisoning before another child farmworker becomes ill at work,” said Norma Flores López, chair of the Child Labor Coalition’s Domestic Issues Committee. “Children who work in tobacco fields often wear black plastic garbage bags on their torsos to try to avoid contact with nicotine-laden tobacco leafs,” noted López. “Imagine the heat they experience in broiling sun wearing those bags? How can we subject them to those conditions?”

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have urged the Obama administration to issue federal rules to ban child labor in US tobacco.

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