On 29 September 2010, Global March Governing Board member, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), presented its biannual report on core labour standards in the USA for the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council Review of the Trade Policies of the USA. The ITUC report reveals a poor record on workers’ protection, particularly with regard to trade union rights, and also the incidence of child labour in the agricultural sector. The US has ratified ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, but has not ratified ILO Convention No. 138 on the Minimum Age of Employment, the global benchmark standard for child labour.
According to the report, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) federal law, 16 is the minimum age for non-agricultural employment, but 14- and 15-year-olds may be employed for certain periods that are considered not to interfere with their schooling, in jobs that the Secretary of Labor has determined will not interfere with their health and well-being. Federal law also states that a child working in agriculture on a farm owned or operated by his or her parent is exempted from Federal agricultural child labour provisions. There are also allowances that differ by age for young farm workers who are not the children of the farmer employing them.
The report goes on to point out that in June 2010, the Labor Department introduced stricter penalties for employers who illegally employ children of 12 or 13 years of age (US$6,000 per child found) and if a worker is under 12 years of age and illegally employed, the fine begins from US$8,000. Some penalties for illegally employing workers under age 14 could be raised to US$11,000 under certain conditions. According to the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), a member of the US Child Labor Coalition (CLC): “… existing labor law exempts various categories of children from protections against employment in hazardous agricultural jobs; the regulations describing particularly hazardous agricultural jobs have not been updated in 30 years despite strong and long-standing recommendations to do so from the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health; existing labor law does not prevent children from working long
hours in agricultural work; and, the laws protecting child agricultural laborers are not well
In 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW), also a member of the CLC, documented exploitative and dangerous conditions for underage workers in the US in its report “Fields of Peril”. Children of
poor families in American farms, chiefly immigrant families, score high school dropout rates and with no education and significant other skills, they are condemned to a life of poverty. Parents report the lack of childcare, poverty and the expenses for school supplies as factors that made them take children to work. According to the ITUC, the US laws on the minimum age for agricultural employment provide a legitimate choice for the parents.In conclusion, the report notes that child labour in agriculture is the least protected form of child labour in the US and the
most hazardous one. However, it goes on to state that although there is a serious lack of labour inspection and enforcement of the legislation on child labour, the government has begun to take measures to address this problem.
To download a full copy of the ITUC report, click here.
To download a copy of HRW’s report “Fields of Peril” in either English or Spanish, click here.