Three months ago, in mid-December 2022, Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) reported in the “Daily News” section of their website on a news article by Reuters which documented a fairly extensive use of Child Labor in Alabama by suppliers of Hyundai Motor Company and their sister company Kia.
Although the SIA news clip was brief it did mention the significant detail that “staffing companies placed migrant minors in these factories’ and also carried a link to the full Reuters article. That article carried the full extent of staffing company involvement, although some of these were simply brokers used to create a distance between the recruitment and the actual placement.
But as far as I knew at that time, and although the violations were serious and widespread throughout Alabama, at least, it seemed to be an isolated scandal.It was not.
Child Labor Violations Are a Major Trend
Less than a month ago, on March 14th, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) filed a report titled “ “Child Labor Laws are under Attack Across the Country”. In that report they cite the rise in labor law violations in the last 7 years (2015-2022) have gone from 1,012 incidents in 2015 to 3,876 in 2022! And minors working in hazardous occupations, like meatpacking plants, almost doubled from 355 to 688.
The Economic Policy Institute’s report also notes that both statistics “represent a tiny fraction of violations, most of which go unreported and uninvestigated.”
In spite of this rise in violations, they report that 10 states have introduced or enacted laws, in the last two years, that roll back child labor protections. (As of that March 14th report only 4 states have enacted such laws) Question: Why only in the last two years? What’s happening?
It should be noted here that “the last two years” have also been significant not only for the introduction of this kind of “roll back” legislation, but also for a spike in the number of violations within the overall trend line.
In a March 5th interview on NPR (National Public Radio) Brandeis University professor and former senior official in the U.S. Labor Dept, was asked if the practice of using children, as young as 13, in full time jobs in factories and construction sites, has grown in the last several years and he responded that “it has really exploded in the last few years” (my emphasis)
The Suggested Reasons for the Violations?
Although some might cite, as a major reason, the difficulty in not being able to find enough workers, the clear trend line, except for the “pandemic dip” in 20-21 is pretty constant in the year after year increase from 2015 to 2022. But because there has been a spike within the trend in the last two years, that reason may well be a factor for that two-year period, even it does not seem to hold up as a major reason for the entire seven-year trend.
The large number of low-wage migrants desperate for work might be a major reason. It serves both the labor supply need and the profit motive. But we have had other periods with lots of available migrants without the thousands of reported child labor violations.
The Reuters article cited the pressure created on suppliers by the “Just-in-time” product delivery schedules which demand great flexibility in production, variable shift work and long hours, where migrants might not have the leverage to resist.
And there is also the opportunity created by the rural “off the map” locations of some of these small company suppliers.
Also, most of these under age migrants were either undocumented or awaiting a hearing on their request for asylum (which could take years), and most were actively recruited as well as being provided with false documentation by their recruiters. This would make them particularly vulnerable and quite probably compliant employees.
Yet, we have had all these situations with migrants for many years, but I do not remember an explosion in child labor violations that we are seeing in the last seven-year trend from 1,000 per year to almost 4,000 in a steady increase with a spike in the last two.
Staffing Company Speaking Up!
Although there may be others, one staffing company is speaking up clearly and forcefully about the situation. Forge Industrial Staffing(https://www.forgestaff.com) is a regional staffing company that operates throughout Indiana and Michigan.
On every page of their website, in the top margin, is a tasteful, professional, yet clearly visible banner in red and white fonts on a black background that says,“Important Notice: Forge Statement on Child Labor Reports” and links to a full page, full throated, condemnation of the problem.
To give you the flavor of that compelling document I will quote here the first short paragraph and leave a link at the bottom to the full text. It is well worth the 3-minute read.
“We have been horrified at reports of the scope and scale of exploitive child labor across the United States. The stories have been shocking, but unfortunately, not surprising for those of us who have worked in the staffing industry and who have had to be wary of exploitive sponsors, forged paperwork, unsafe working conditions and the growing sophistication of bad actors”. Quote from Forge Statement on Child Labor Reports for full document click here.
As always, stay safe and pray for Ukraine.