Bloomberg Law
Feb. 27, 2023, 6:20 PMUpdated: Feb. 27, 2023, 7:31 PM

Labor, Health Agencies Launch Taskforce Tackling Child Labor (1)

Rebecca Rainey
Rebecca Rainey
Senior Reporter

The Biden administration wants to reverse an alarming uptick in child labor violations involving migrant children at US companies.

Leaders of the US departments of Labor and Health and Human Services announced Monday they are taking new steps to address exploitative child labor practices, including forming an inter-agency taskforce on “Child Labor Exploitation” and launching a national strategic enforcement initiative from the Wage and Hour Division.

As part of that effort, senior administration officials said during a press call that the DOL would be “applying further scrutiny to companies who conduct business with employers and staffing agencies that use illegal child labor.”

“We will identify companies who maybe benefit directly from the exploitation of child labor and will increase accountability for systemic abuses of child labor,” the senior administration official said. The DOL is investigating over 600 child labor cases, according to Biden officials.

The administration is also asking Congress to increase funding for the enforcement effort, and pass legislation to increase civil monetary penalty amounts for child labor violations. The maximum civil monetary penalty for a child labor violation now is $15,138 per child, which officials Monday said isn’t “high enough to be a deterrent for major profitable companies.”

Legal Tools

The Labor Department will “aggressively use all litigation tools at its disposal,” a senior administration official who asked to remain unidentified said, including invoking the “hot goods” provision under the Fair Labor Standards Act to halt the movement of any goods made with child labor, as well as court injunctions and criminal referrals to stop businesses’ behavior.

Officials Monday also confirmed that there is an open investigation into the hiring practices at Hearthside Food Solutions Inc., a food production and packaging company that makes snack bars and cereals, following a New York Times expose published over the weekend.

The taskforce’s work will focus on information sharing into child labor investigations to help HHS to more closely scrutinize sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children when there’s concerns about child labor violations in the area, or other concerns, according to a press release.

HHS officials said the agency will mandate a follow-up call to any child who reaches out to the Office of Refugee Resettlement National Call Center to report a safety concern, in addition to auditing its current policies for potential business sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children.

Violations Across Multiple Industries

The new enforcement pact comes after the DOL recently uncovered egregious child labor violations across multiple industries, some of which involved undocumented immigrant children. It also follows “an influx in migrant children from Latin America fleeing violence and poverty,” and growing pressure from labor advocates and Democrats to tighten child labor regulations, officials said.

The agency has seen a 69% increase in the number of children employed in violation of child labor laws since 2018, a senior administration official said on the call. “In the last fiscal year we found 835 companies operating in violation of child labor laws affecting 3,800 children.”

In one case that has garnered national media attention, the DOL found that more than 100 kids across eight states were hired by Wisconsin-based Packers Sanitation Services Inc. Ltd. to clean meatpacking equipment and work overnight shifts in violation of federal labor law.

In another instance last year, DOL also sought a federal court order to stop an Alabama Hyundai and Kia auto parts manufacturer from employing kids as young as 13 and having children under 16 working in a manufacturing operation, practices barred under federal rules.

Democrats and worker advocacy groups have called on the Biden administration in recent weeks to update its Hazardous Occupation orders, which limit the types of job duties minors can conduct, such as prohibiting work in coal mining or use of certain power-driven machines.

Five Democratic lawmakers earlier this month sent a letter to the DOL urging the agency to create new limits for minors working on tobacco farms. Anti-child labor groups have also met with the Biden DOL, urging the agency ramp up its protections for children working in agriculture jobs.

Jessica Looman, principal deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division, told Bloomberg Law in January that the agency didn’t have a planned rulemaking to update its Hazardous Occupation orders.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Rainey in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at

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