Washington, D.C.—The Child Labor Coalition (CLC), representing 38 groups engaged in the fight against domestic and global child labor, applauds Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) for introducing the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE). The legislation, introduced on Cesar Chavez Day, would close long-standing loopholes that permit children in agriculture to work for wages when they are only age 12. The bill would also ban jobs on farms labeled “hazardous” by the U.S. Department of Labor if workers are under the age of 18. The children of farm owners, working on their parents’ farms, would not be impacted by the CARE Act.
“Today, I am re-introducing the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety (CARE Act) with my friend and co-lead Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva to protect the rights, safety, and future of [children who work on farms],” said Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, Thursday.
“I’m proud to co-lead this important legislation with Rep. Roybal-Allard to protect the children of farmworkers. Farmworkers remain some of the most exploited, underpaid, and unprotected laborers in our nation. They and their children deserve legal protections, better working conditions, and higher workplace standards to protect their health and safety. It’s past time we updated our antiquated labor laws to give children working in agriculture the same protections and rights provided to all kids in the workforce,” said Rep. Grijalva.
“Children working for wages on farms are exposed to many hazards—farm machinery, heat stroke, and pesticides among them—and they perform back-breaking labor that no child should have to experience,” said CLC co-chair Sally Greenberg, the executive director of the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy organization that has worked to eliminate abusive child labor since its founding in 1899. “Current child labor law discriminates against children who toil in agriculture. It’s time these dangerous exemptions end. We applaud Rep. Roybal-Allard and Rep. Grijalva’s leadership in re-introducing CARE.”
“Ending exploitive child labor on American farms is long overdue and this legislation will result in healthier, better educated farmworker children and help end the generational poverty that afflicts many farmworker families,” said Reid Maki, Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition and Director of Child Labor Advocacy, National Consumers League. The CARE Act has been endorsed by 200 national, regional, and state-based organizations, noted Maki.
“Children as young as 12 are being hired to do backbreaking work on US farms, at risk of serious injuries, heat stroke, pesticide poisoning, and even death,” said Margaret Wurth, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, a CLC member. “Existing US child labor laws are woefully out of date and put child farmworkers at unacceptable risk,” Wurth said. “Congress should act swiftly to adopt the CARE Act and ensure that all children are protected equally.”
The CLC’s strategy for child labor on U.S. farms is guided by its Domestic Issues Committee Chair Norma Flores López who worked in the fields as a young girl. “Decades ago, my family and I were crowding into the back of a pickup truck with our few belongings, and starting our two-day journey towards the fields of Indiana, Michigan, or Iowa. What awaited me, starting at the age of 12, were long hours of back-breaking work earning low wages. I was one of the faces you see in photographs from the fields, hidden behind a bandana. Fast forward more than 25 years, and we are still fighting for young girls –and boys — who are enduring exploitation, harvesting the fruits and vegetables we eat. The same reality that I once lived awaits the approximately 300,000 children who work on American farms today,” said Flores López, who also serves as Chief Programs Officer of Justice for Migrant Women and was the 2021 recipient of the U.S. Department of Labor Iqbal Masih Award.
“For too long, children laboring in U.S. agriculture have been denied the protections they deserve to ensure their health and well-being. Too often, kids working on commercial farms are subjected to dangerous, unhealthy, work that’s detrimental to their education and far too often results in harm or even death. The CARE Act would address this problem and give children working on farms the same protections as children working in other industries,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization.
In addition to raising the minimum age at which children could work in agriculture, CARE would increase minimum fines for employers who violate agricultural child labor laws when those violations lead to serious injury, illness, or death of minors. The legislation would also strengthen regulations that protect minors from pesticide exposure and improve analysis of child labor health impacts.