Tag Archive for: 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 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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110 Groups Urge President Obama to Ban Child Labor in US Tobacco

August 3, 2016

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

In August 2014, dozens of organizations counting millions of Americans among their members wrote to you, alarmed at reports of acute nicotine poisoning and other health and safety hazards faced by children working in US tobacco fields. We are writing again regarding measures you should take to protect these vulnerable children before you leave office in January 2017.

On May 5, the FDA announced new regulations prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to children under the age of 18. In announcing the new regulations, the Secretary of Health and Human Services stated, “We’ve agreed for many years that nicotine does not belong in the hands of children.” We agree. Yet US law allows children as young as 12, and in some cases even younger, to work in direct contact with tobacco in US tobacco fields and curing barns. There are no regulations or special provisions in place to protect child tobacco workers from exposure to nicotine and awareness raising efforts have limited effect given that the extreme poverty many tobacco farming families experience is the principle reason these children work in the tobacco fields at all.

201512_crd_us_tobacco_photo_2The health risks tobacco farm workers face are considerable, leaving workers vulnerable to heat stroke and green tobacco sickness. The majority of these workers are seasonal/migrant workers who have little access to mechanisms that would hold growers accountable for conditions in the fields, and often few options but to bring children to work. The health consequences of tobacco work are worse for children than they are for adults, because children’s smaller bodies absorb proportionately more nicotine than adults. There are long-term developmental repercussions as well. Children who work in direct contact with tobacco leaves risk acute nicotine poisoning, and may experience symptoms including vomiting, nausea, headaches and dizziness. A widely-reported 2014 study by Human Rights Watch found that the majority of the 141 child tobacco workers interviewed had experienced the sudden onset of symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning while working in fields of tobacco plants and curing barns in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

Public health research has found that non-smoking adult tobacco workers have similar levels of nicotine in their bodies as smokers in the general population. Although the long-term effects of nicotine absorption through the skin have not been studied, research on smoking finds that nicotine exposure during adolescence has been associated with mood disorders and problems with memory, attention, impulse control, and cognition later in life.

In the last two years, both U.S. tobacco growers’ associations and major companies in the tobacco industry have made some progress in acknowledging that children should not be working on tobacco farms. The Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina and the Council for Burley Tobacco, which collectively represent approximately half of all US tobacco growers, have adopted policies stating that children under age 16 should not be hired to work on tobacco farms. The two largest US-based tobacco companies, Altria Group and Reynolds American, now prohibit their suppliers from employing children under the age of 16. Companies including Philip Morris International have publicly called for US regulatory action to back up these voluntary commitments.

The safety and health of child tobacco workers is just as important as teens who may be tempted by e-cigarettes. We urge you to take immediate action to protect these vulnerable children, through the following:

1) Immediate regulations to ban children from working in direct contact with tobacco: A critical first step the administration can take to protect child tobacco workers is for the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue a hazardous occupation order that specifically prohibits children from working in direct contact with tobacco. In 2011 the DOL issued proposed regulations to update the list of tasks too dangerous for children under age 16 employed in agriculture, including “all work in tobacco production and curing, including, but not limited to such activities as planting, cultivating, topping, harvesting, baling, barning, and curing.” Intense opposition to the regulations mischaracterized them as applying to family farms and focused on specific elements, including the use of tractors and certain tools. In 2012, the administration withdrew the proposed regulations.

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Len Morris: Our Kids Are Watching Us

For the first time in more than a year, Democrats and Republicans have begun to speak mistily about the prospects for our children’s future.

“With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. Kids look to us to determine who and what they can be.”       –Michelle Obama

Words alone don’t matter. What actions can the Congress and President take immediately to improve the lives of American children?

Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on health hazards of children working in the American Tobacco Industry. Voluntary policies to eliminate child labor in tobacco are insufficient and carry no force of law. The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (S.974/H.R.1848) should be passed by Congress and signed into law. The medical evidence is overwhelming; children have no business handling tobacco. This bill should take five minutes to pass, about the same amount of time it takes to read. Pass this Bill now, in the lame duck Congressional session in September.

CLC-member Len Morris of Media Voices for Children

CLC-member Len Morris of Media Voices for Children

If we’re going to protect children in the fields who pick tobacco, why not protect all children who work in American agriculture whose lives and educations are put on hold and whose health is compromised by 12-hour days of work in one of the most dangerous occupations in the country? The Children’s Care Act for Responsible Employment (HR2764) has had the support of over a hundred national organizations and dozens of House members but has failed to find a single United States Senator willing to champion them by sponsoring legislation in the Senate. And so every day, in every state of our union, hundreds of thousands of children pick our fruits and vegetables, exposed to pesticides. With a 60% drop-out rate from school, they are utterly poor and equally vulnerable… a target for human traffickers.

After 80 years of delay, it’s long past time for the Congress and President to amend the 1939 law that ended child labor in America. Adults should work in the fields and make a living wage; children belong in school. It’s time for The Care Act to be sponsored in the Senate so this legislation has an opportunity to pass. Why wait – what’s to be gained by more delay? Do this in September.


Over 65,000 young people, who were brought as children to this country by their parents in search of a better life, live each year in the shadow of deportation and are unable enroll in school, find work or pursue normal lives. For years, Congress has failed to pass multiple versions of The Dream Act, a bipartisan supported Bill that would enable Dreamers to qualify to remain in America, live and work and contribute to America, including service in our military. This bill is not an amnesty, it’s a pathway to legitimacy for young adults guilty only of being brought here as children.

While Congress talks itself to death, America loses out on the economic potential of some of our brightest children. One UCLA report found that Dreamers would add between 1.4 to 3.6 trillion dollars to the American economy during their work lives. The Congressional Budget Office sees the national deficit reduced by 1.4 billion dollars as the Bill reduces and focuses the costs of border security to those individuals who constitute a real and violent threat to our society. But mostly, The Dream Act is a simple test of American values. Can we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes? Can we find the empathy we need to make room at our table for children, who are in fact our schoolmates, our neighbors, our soldiers? Now is the time to pass the Dream Act because it’s the right thing to do for those children but for also ourselves, as an expression of our own humanity.

“We don’t chase fame and fortune for ourselves, we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed, because we always know there is someone who is worse off and there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

                                        –Michelle Obama

Children’s rights are human rights and human rights are children’s rights, that’s the point of the 1995 treaty, The Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every nation on earth, except the United States, has adopted the Convention, a landmark document of utter simplicity that sets out the kind of world we should all aspire to for all children. While President Clinton signed the Treaty in 1995, no American President has ever submitted it to the United States Senate for its required “advise and consent”. Over the years, objections to the Convention came from those upset that it prohibits either juvenile execution or life sentences, positions upheld by The United States Supreme Court. Home-school advocates have objected to the Convention’s requirement for mandatory public education. But the actual issue preventing adoption has always been American exceptionalism, the feeling that we shouldn’t agree to any treaty binding our behavior on the global stage.

President Obama, here is an easy addition to your legacy. Send this Convention on to the Senate and make a strong statement about children’s human rights. By doing the right thing, you’d re-energize the debate about the welfare of children around the world and at home. You’d set an example and force the Senate to look into its heart. With Somalia’s ratification last year, America has the distinction of being the ONLY country to not ratify The Convention on the Rights of the Child…. and what a distinction that is… to sit on the sidelines and pretend we care about values we’re unwilling to adopt and publicly support. If we mean what we say about championing children interests, then adopting the CRC is the right thing to do.

President Obama, don’t leave office without sending this Treaty on to the Senate. Do it now.Children sickened by tobacco, children working illegally in America’s fields, children whose lives are on hold and live threatened by deportation, a world where the value and rights of children are ignored by the greatest democracy on earth. Is this the world we want for our children?

“Words and actions matter… With every word we utter and every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. “Michelle Obama

Len Morris of Media Voices for Children received the Iqbal Masih Award from the Department of Labor in 2012 for his work to end the worst forms of child labor.

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Needed: A Champion for Children

By Len Morris

Len Morris of Media Voices for Children

Len Morris of Media Voices for Children

If we are to have a government worthy of the America Jimmy Stewart described in his famous role as Senator Jefferson Smith, we’ll need champions in government that will protect those who are the weakest and most vulnerable among us – our children.

Today, hundreds of thousands of children work in America’s fields doing dangerous, unhealthy and adult work from sunrise to sunset…many under 14 years of age. They need a champion, one senator out of a hundred, who will step forward to protect them by introducing a law outlawing child labor in America’s fields, revising and repealing a law that’s been on the books since 1939, when America was a different place and American farms were small family affairs, not the corporate agribusiness of today.

The invisible children in our fields are victims of greed, racism and violated human liberties.

Greed is the driver, enabling companies to make huge profits at the expense of children’s health. Under current US law, child tobacco workers can be and are exposed to nicotine poisoning and the carcinogens of deadly pesticides. These kids’ human rights are violated with little notice or political consequence.

Yesenia, age 12, harvesting onions in South Texas (Photo courtesy of Robin Romano)

Yesenia, age 12, harvesting onions in South Texas (Photo courtesy of Robin Romano)

Meanwhile, politicians look the other way and pretend it’s not happening as they collect campaign contributions from those same companies. Senators and Representatives have somehow lost their voice when the constituent is a child who cannot vote.

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Agriculture: Other types of farm work—Harvesting crops and using machinery

Despite perceptions that farms are safe, wholesome places for children, farms are actually quite dangerous workplaces. They are the most dangerous workplace that large numbers of children are allowed to work, beginning at age 12, because of lax child labor laws in the U.S.

According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety about every three days a child dies in an agricultural-related incident, and every day about 38 children are injured on farms. About 80 percent of the nearly 8,000 injured youth in 2012 were not working when the injury occurred, notes the Children’s Center, which suggests that over 1,500 youth were working for wages when they were injured on the farm.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in 2012 more than 955,400 youth lived on the 2.2 million farms in the U.S.; 49 percent of these youth worked on their farm. About 258,800 non-resident youth were hired in agriculture that year (an increase of over 28,000 youth workers from the prior year.)

A young US farmworker (Photo courtesy of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs)

A young US farmworker (Photo courtesy of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs)

Americans are reluctant to admit it, but farms are very dangerous. Agriculture is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous industries in America. In its 2008 edition of Injury Facts, The National Safety Council (NSC) ranked it as the most dangerous industry with 28.7 deaths per 100,000 adult workers. The fatality rate among youth workers in 2009—21.3 per 100,000 fulltime employees—means it the most dangerous sector that youth under 18 are allowed to work in.

According to NIOSH data from 1995 to 2002, about 115 youth under 20 died on farms each year and about 15,876 farm related injuries occur to that age group. There is a glaring lack of recent fatality studies in agriculture. The Rural Mutual Insurance Company’s website has data that suggests there were 63 child deaths on farms in 2015.

A 2013 piece in The Nation titled “Regulations are Killed, and Kids Die” bemoaned the lack of data. In the words of reporter Mariya Strauss, “The experts I called were vexed by the lack of available data on farmworker children. ‘The big story is, we don’t have a surveillance system,” says Amy Liebman, director of environmental and occupational health for the Salisbury, Maryland–based Migrant Clinicians Network. The CFOI numbers give ‘a general sort of idea,’ she adds, but ‘they really miss some of the hired teen workers.’”

Because of the type of mechanical equipment used on farms (augurs and other type of metal blades that spin) and machinery like tractors which are prone to tip over, farm accidents often produce disabling injuries and high rates of amputation. A Kansas State University (KSU) study in 2007, noted that farms produced more than 80,000 disabling injuries.

A 2006 study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that nearly three in four deaths among working youth were caused by vehicles and machinery. The report authors found that young workers in agriculture were 3.6 times more likely to die than young workers in other sectors; a 15-year-old teen in crop production had six times the fatality rate of all 15-year-old workers. Despite these disturbing facts the nation’s agricultural lobby has steadfastly opposed increased youth safety regulations on farms.

Agriculture’s danger for teens is well documented. Between 1992 and 2000, more than four in 10 work-related fatalities of young workers occurred on farms. Half of the fatalities in agriculture involved youth under age 15. For workers 15 to 17, the risk of fatal injury is four times the risk for young workers in other workplaces, according to U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Examples of recent farm tragedies follow:

  • Amos King, age 11, died in a farm accident in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania when a 1,200 pound bale of hay fell on him in January 2016. Amos was a member of the Amish community. He died one day after an 8-year-old boy suffered very serious leg injuries when his leg became stuck in some farm machinery on a nearby farm.
  • An unidentified Canadian boy, 10, was killed while driving a forklift in November 2015 near his family’s farm near Killam, Alberta. The machine drove into a ditch and rolled over. In the U.S., forklifts are considered too dangerous for minors to drive, unless they are in agriculture when 16-year-olds are allowed to drive them. But, children working on their parents’ farms are exempted from all safety laws.
  • In May 2015, 9-year-old Charlotte Anne “Charlie” VanKempen of Herman, Minnesota died in a rock-picking incident. She was apparently run over by a vehicle in a field as she cleared it of rocks that had been unearthed over the winter. Details of whether she was working for wages or working on a family farm were not provided in published news reports.
  • In September 2014, Troy Gorr of Monroe, Wisconsin died while working on a farm when the tractor he was operating overturned.
  • In July 2014, a 9-year-old Wisconsin boy died in a Grant County grain bin accident as he tried to loosen a stuck augur (it is not clear if he was working for wages.)
  • That same month, a 17-year-old Greencastle, Indiana teen died after he was crushed by a back-hoe that he lost control of on a farm.
  • In September 2013, a 17-year-old in Heidelberg Township Pennsylvania was killed when his leg became entangled in a corn baler and he was pulled into the machine. The boy died of multiple blunt force trauma.
  • In August 2013, a boy, 9, was critically injured in Martic Township, Pennsylvania when he was caught in a diesel-powered alfalfa crimper.
  • In July of 2013, near Pesotum, Illinois, 79 teens working in a corn field fell victim to fungicide poisoning as they were sprayed by drift from a plane treating an adjacent field. The teen workers were treated at local hospitals mostly for skin irritations.
  • In July 2013, a 12-year-old Jamesport, Missouri youth was seriously injured when a tractor being driven by his 14-year-old brother drove over him after it hit a bump and knocked the younger youth off.
  • That same month in Frankford, Missouri, Michael Steele, 15, was killed when he fell off a tractor and was run over by a trailer being pulled behind the tractor.
  • In Fairfield, Iowa that month, 16-year-old Jordan Baker died when he was pinned under a tractor that rolled over.
  • In June of 2013, 15-year-old Jacob Moore of Ridgeville, Iowa suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries when he was pinned under a tractor that had rolled over.
  • In Minnesota in June 2013, an 11-year-old boy was injured in Bellevue Township when he was run over by a rock wagon driven by another juvenile. The boy was “picking rocks” from fields—a common farm activity.
  • In November 2012, 14-year-old Henry Lap died when he became trapped under a disc being pulled by mules. He fell from the equipment’s platform and under a rig.
  • In July 2012, Curvin Kropf, 15, was killed when working on a machine that cut corn stalks. The youth fell off of the machine and was run over.
  • Kelsey Helen Graves, age 13, died in Fort Collins, Colorado in July 2012, when she was cleaning a filter on an irrigation system and was electrocuted. She was working on her family farm.
  • In August 2011 in Kremlin, Oklahoma, two 17-year-olds, Bryce Gannon and Tyler Zander, lost their legs in a grain augur they became entrapped in.
  • In July, 17-year-old Jordan Ross Monen of Inwood, Iowa was killed in a farm accident. Monen was working on a cattle shed door from inside a payloader bucket when the payloader, which was being operated by another worker, accidentally moved forward and crushed him against the header of the doorway.
  • In Tampico, Illinois, in July, two 14-year-old girls, Jade Garza and Hannah Kendall, were electrocuted while working to remove tassels on corn after coming into contact with a field irrigator on a farm.
  • In March 2011, two teens, Nicholas Bledsoe, 19, and Justin Eldridge, 18, were working at their after-school job at a farm in Okawville, Illinois when they were electrocuted as a pole they were carrying touched a power line, killing them both.
  • In December 2010, a 16-year-old named John Warner was killed when his clothing became entangled in the shaft of a manure spreader in Arcanum, Ohio.
  • In late August 2010 in Etna Green, Indiana, 13-year-old Wyman Miller, a member of an Amish community, was tending to some horse when he was apparently struck or crushed by the horses. He died of blunt force trauma.
  • In July 2010, 14-year-old White Whitebread suffocated in a grain bin beside 19-year-old co-worker Alex Pacas, who had jumped in to try to save him. The accident occurred in Mount Carroll, Illinois.
  • In July 2010 in Middleville, Michigan, 18-year-old Victor Perez and 17-year-old Francisco M. Martinez died after falling into a silo they were power washing.
  • David Yenni, a 13-year-old was killed in a grain loading accident at a Petaluma, California mill in August 2009. The boy, who was working with his father, climbed on top of an open trailer for unknown reasons just as the father was emptying it into an underground storage tank. Somehow, he became trapped in the funneling material. Would-be rescuers were able to grab his arm but could not free him from the grain until it was too late.
  • In May 2009, Cody Rigsby, a Colorado 17-year-old was working in a grain bin when he vanished. It took rescuers six hours to find his body.

While many farm deaths occur to the children of farmers on their parents’ farms, the same dangers that imperil the sons and daughters of farmers hold some danger for hired farmworkers, although their rate of injury seems to be lower.

Yesenia, age 12, harvesting onions in South Texas (Photo courtesy of Robin Romano)

Yesenia, age 12, harvesting onions in South Texas (Photo courtesy of Robin Romano)

Loopholes in current child labor law allow children to work in agriculture at younger ages than children can work in other industries. It is legal in many states for a 12-year-old to work all day under the hot summer sun with tractors and pickup trucks dangerously criss-crossing the fields, but that same 12-year-old could not be hired to make copies in an air-conditioned office building. Because of the labor law exemptions, large numbers of 12- and 13-year-olds—usually the sons and daughters of migrant and seasonal farmworkers—can be found working in the fields in the United States.

Farmworker advocates believe that an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 youth under the age of 16 help harvest our nation’s crops each year, and exemptions allow even younger kids to work legally on very small farms. Field investigations by the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) and Human Rights Watch, who are both members of the Child Labor Coalition, have found 9- and 10-year-old children working in the fields under harsh conditions.

The National Consumers League and the Child Labor Coalition believe that the long hours of farm work for wages for children under 14 is dangerous for their health, education, and well-being, and should not be allowed. We support legislative efforts that would apply child labor age restrictions to all industries, including agriculture, although the legislation does exempt the sons and daughters of farmers working on their parents’ farm.

On May 5, 2010, Human Rights Watch released “Fields of Peril—Child Labor in U.S. Agriculture,” the results of a year-long investigation. The report details the arduous work and harsh conditions that many youths who work on farms are subjected to.

Exemptions in the law also allow teens working on farms to perform tasks deemed hazardous in other industries when they are only 16—as opposed to 18 for the other industries. For example, a worker must be 18 to drive a forklift at retail warehouse, but a 16-year-old is legally allowed to drive a forklift at an agricultural processing facility. NCL does not believe such exemptions are justified. Driving a forklift is a very dangerous activity and should not be undertaken by minors.

In agriculture, 16- and 17-year-olds are permitted to work inside fruit, forage, or grain storage units, which kill workers every year in suffocation accidents; they can also operate dangerous equipment like corn pickers, hay mowers, feed grinders, power post hole diggers, auger conveyors, and power saws. NCL and the Child Labor Coalition, which it coordinates, are working to eliminate unjustified exemptions to U.S. Department of Labor safety restrictions based on age.

Each year, about two dozen workers—including several youth—are killed in silos and grain storage facilities. Purdue University found that 51 men and boys became engulfed in grain facilities and 26 died. NCL believes these facilities are too dangerous for minors.

The U.S. Department of Labor has tried to prohibit work by minors when it proposed occupational child safety rules for farms in September 2011. Unfortunately, because of political pressure from many members of the farm community, DOL abandoned its attempt to increase hazardous work protections for agriculture. These common-sense protections would have targeted only the most dangerous farm jobs for children.

Cheryl Monen, who lives in the small northwestern Iowa community of Lester, is a mom who lost her son to one of the farm accidents we detailed in July 2011. She regrets the Obama Administration withdrawal.

“I feel so guilty about it now. I just had not put it together how terribly dangerous it was and the risks he was in,” Monen told the Associated Press. “I really struggle with that. Now, I really wish I never suggested he get a job.”

Despite the sobering data on the dangers of agriculture injuries and fatalities, things are slowly improving and NIOSH notes that the rate of agricultural injuries among children declined by 56 percent between 1998 and 2009. We believe that the robust health and safety efforts within the agricultural community has played a significant part in this reduction.


CLC-Member Human Rights Watch: No Virginia, Tobacco Fields are Not a Place for Children

By Zama Coursen-Neff, Human Rights Watch

zama“Are you saying my parents were stupid?”

From Virginia lawmaker Jonny Joannou, it seemed like a reasonable question. If working on the tobacco farm as a child was fine for many Virginians, why should the state ban it now?

The moment came during a committee hearing of the Virginia House of Delegates I attended Tuesday on abill, introduced by Delegate Alfonso Lopez, that would make it illegal to hire children under 18 to work in direct contact with tobacco, unless the child’s parent or grandparent owned the farm. I was there to support the restrictions based on Human Rights Watch’s extensiveresearch on the topic. At the moment, the state’s child labor law, like federal law, exempts child farm workers from the protections enjoyed by all other children who work.

Still, the lawmaker’s question is one I wrestle with. My grandfather grew up working on a farm in Texas, and my dad worked construction in Louisiana at age 12.Now I’m fighting to stop children from doing dangerous jobs, including on tobacco farms where they risk poisoning by nicotine and pesticides. Am I shaming my grandfather and the millions like him who have sent children to work?

If Joannou had directed his question to me, this is what I would have said:

I like to think our parents tried to do what’s best. Children—when they are old enough—can gain valuable skills and work ethic from jobs that are safe and don’t interfere with their education. I want this for my kids, too.

But we now know things our parents didn’t – about car seats, lead-free paint, folic acid, and of course cigarettes. When it comes to child labor, we also know more now about the effect pesticides used on tobacco—many of which are known neurotoxins—have on children’s still-developing bodies. While the long-term effects of nicotine absorption through the skin have not been studied, a recent US Surgeon General’s report suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence may have lasting consequences for brain development. Almost two-thirds of the more than 140 child tobacco workers we interviewed reported suddenly becoming ill at work with vomiting and nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing and other symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning.

The House committee swiftly killed the bill, leaving Virginia’s 12-year-olds free to work unlimited hours on tobacco farms in the state this summer. Afterwards, Joannou admitted that he hadn’t worked on a farm as a child, although he did wash dishes in a family-owned restaurant.

I don’t think that real-life farmworker parents—many of whom are desperately poor and largely uninformed about risks in the field—are “stupid” for sending their children to do work that is currently absolutely legal.  But I don’t think it’s smart for legislators to ignore the best evidence we have now on the risks faced by children working tobacco.



CLC-Member the National Consumers League Condemns the Defeat of a Child Labor Bill in Virginia

For immediate release: February 4, 2015
Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League, benk@nclnet.org(202) 835-3323

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) is deeply disappointed in the defeat of a Virginia State Legislature bill that would have been the first of its kind to protect children from working in dangerous tobacco fields. “This takes us back a century ago when children in America were working in mines, factories, and mills. The reactionary forces fought protections for kids back then, just as they are doing today,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League (NCL) and co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which NCL co-founded 25 years ago.  “It’s just as intolerable to expose kids to these toxics today as it was in 1915.”

The bill (HB 1906), introduced last month by Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), was defeated yesterday in the Republican-controlled Committee on Commerce and Labor. HB 1906 would have made it illegal for children, other than the members of a farmer’s own family, from harvesting tobacco. Recent reports of children being sickened by acute nicotine poisoning in tobacco fields battling nausea, headaches, vomiting, and dizziness have sparked a national movement to ban this practice.

“It is our obligation to protect our most vulnerable workers. It is very disappointing to see Virginia lawmakers cave to big tobacco interests and defeat this common-sense child labor protection,” said Reid Maki. “We will continue to ask lawmakers at both the federal and state levels to ban child labor in U.S. tobacco fields.”

Lopez’s bill would have prohibited farmers from hiring anyone under 18 to work in direct contact with tobacco leaves. HB 1906 would have been the first legislation of its kind in a state that harvests tobacco. In Virginia, it would preempt some of the outdated Fair Labor Standards Act provisions that allow children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours on farms performing the dangerous work.

“Young children should not be working in direct contact with tobacco. They are especially vulnerable to nicotine poisoning due to their size and stage of development. Indeed, a recent report from the surgeon general suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence may have lasting negative consequences,” said Del. Lopez in a press release.


The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act) would help protect child farmworkers

Child farmworker Greccia Balli. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

Grecia Balli began working in farm fields when she was 10 years old. At age 14, she decided to drop out of school because her life as a migrant farmworker caused her to switch schools frequently, making it difficult for her to keep up academically. By age 17 she no longer dreamed of becoming a police officer, which had been her goal. Her life revolved around farm work.

Grecia is one of an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 children who work in U.S. agriculture. Interviewed for “Fingers to the Bone,” a film by U. Roberto Romano and Human Rights Watch, Grecia said she felt as though she had no choices as a farmworker. “You don’t feel the same as other kids.”

Child farmworkers aren’t treated the same as other children, either, under current U.S. labor laws. Seventy-five years after its passage, the antiquated Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 continues to regulate child labor, but fails to provide children performing agricultural work with protections equal to those afforded other children. The FLSA restricts children younger than 16 years from working for more than three hours on a school day, but a loophole for the agricultural sector means children as young as 12 can legally work unlimited hours on farms before or after school, and children of any age can work on small farms, with their parents’ permission. Children 14 and older can work on any farm, without parental consent. Child agricultural workers are also permitted to perform hazardous work at age 16, while hazardous work is strictly reserved for adults in all other sectors.

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries and the most dangerous for children, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. “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,” says Child Labor Coalition (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. “Child farmworkers deserve the same protections that all other American kids enjoy.”

As Grecia’s story illustrates, schooling is also negatively impacted when children labor in agriculture. Many of them leave school before the term ends and return after it has begun. This can lead to academic difficulties. American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer and CLC Co-Chair Lorretta Johnson notes, “Fifty percent of children who regularly work on farms will not graduate from high school.” Child farmworkers have four times the national rate of school drop-out.

For more than a decade, the CLC has endeavored to address the issue of child agricultural labor and is working to help pass the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), HR 2234, federal legislation re-introduced on June 12, 2013, by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) to amend the FLSA.

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NCL: Grain Silos are Death Traps on Farms—Efforts to Protect Workers, Especially Teens, Must be Stepped Up


For immediate release: October 30, 2012
Contact: Reid Maki, (703) 801-3338, reidm@nclnet.org

The Oct. 28th New York Times story “Silos Loom As Death Traps on Farms” stands as a stark reminder that U.S. and state governments must do more to protect workers, toiling in dangerous workplaces. “The Times piece by reporter James Broder highlights several teen worker deaths and violent injuries suffered by teens in agricultural grain facilities,” said Sally Greenberg,  executive director of the National Consumers League (NCL) and a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, 28 organizations committed to protecting children from exploitative or dangerous work. “Unfortunately, last April, the Obama Administration, under intense pressure from the farm lobby, withdrew regulations that would have protected teens from the dangers associated with work in agriculture, including these very dangerous facilities. Under the proposed rules, teens would not have been allowed to work in them.”

Each year, the National Consumers League (NCL) publishes an extensive report, The Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens. “Agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry that large numbers of teens are allowed to work in,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards. “Nearly 100 kids are killed performing hazardous farm work each year. The reality is that agricultural work for teens is extremely dangerous and no job is more dangerous than working in a grain facility.”

In 2010, 51 adult and teen workers became engulfed in grain during accidents at grain facilities. Twenty-six workers died, including Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19, whose deaths were described in the Times article. In August 2011, Oklahoma teens Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, each lost a leg in a grain auger accident. This accident would have been prevented by the withdrawn safety rules. Since 2007, 14 teen boys have died in grain facility accidents.

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