The Child Labor Coalition, which advocates for the rights of exploited children around the world, documents a cornupcopia of abuses in the backyard of a global superpower:
Advocates have for months been pressing the Labor Department to finalize a rule change that would help shield child farm workers from some of the most severe occupational hazards, such as handling pesticides and dangerous farm equipment, and would beef up protections for workers under age 16 (currently, children as young as 12 can legally work on farms, thanks to a loophole in federal labor law, and many younger ones work illegally).
- More children die in agriculture than in any other industry.
- According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youth died on American farms—that’s well over 100 preventable deaths of youth per year.
- In 2011, 12 of the 16 children under the age of 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- When you include older children, more than half of all workers under age 18 who died from work-related injuries worked in crop production.
The reforms would largely impact youth in the migrant communities that fuel the agricultural labor force, filled with poor and Latino workers who are extremely vulnerable to abuse.
Under the banner of National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 25-31, consumer and labor groups are working to educate communities about egregious conditions on farms. Now that organizations like the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers have begun to rattle the food industry with colorful worker- and consumer-driven campaigns, Washington should be ripe for long-overdue reforms to curb the worst forms of child labor.
But common decency has again been overshadowed by a well-oiled campaign by the agricultural industry lobby, which has pushed to block the rule changes by claiming that child labor reflects good old American values.
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