This is an abridged version of the Shared Agenda. Download the full Shared Agenda with detailed recommendations here.
Child labor in the United States has made national and international headlines due to a massive increase in federal child labor violations, state-level roll-backs in child labor protections, and media investigations showing that many children who enter the US unaccompanied are compelled to become child laborers. In mid-2023, the shocking deaths of three children doing hazardous work kept child labor at the forefront of public and political debate.
Behind the headlines, however, are deep-rooted, interrelated injustices driving the surge in illegal child labor and allowing hundreds of thousands of children to work in legal child labor conditions. Central to these are longstanding and discriminatory inequities between laws governing agricultural and non-agricultural work at the federal level, and major gaps in child and social protection measures, particularly for unaccompanied children.
Some policymakers want to turn the clock back a hundred years and expand the child workforce, at the expense of children’s safety, education, and childhoods. No child should be working long hours in dangerous conditions for low pay, but the children who take these jobs do so out of necessity. Overwhelmingly, children involved in child labor are surviving on low-incomes, whether they are unaccompanied migrants or from families experiencing economic hardship. They are disproportionately children of color.
The state-level scramble to create a bigger and younger child workforce, allowed to work longer and later hours, will - at best - deepen educational, economic, and racial inequalities. At worst, it puts more children’s lives in jeopardy. The evidence for this is clear because it is happening in agriculture - which already has lower minimum ages for work and hazardous work, and no restrictions on the number of working hours.
Our shared agenda calls for:
The protection of unaccompanied migrant children by ensuring all children have attorneys, are protected by social services, and have access to general assistance programs; and by ending legislation which encourages children being separated from their families in the first place, and enhancing humanitarian pathways and processing.
The closing of child labor loopholes between agricultural and non-agricultural work, and regularly reviewing and updating hazardous order regulations.
The establishment of stronger consequences for child labor violations and increased enforcement of child labor laws by increasing the capacity of the federal government to enforce the law, holding all companies which benefit from child labor accountable, and substantially raising the level of fines for violations to act as true deterrents.
The creation of strong legislation to hold corporations to account for child labor law violations, and for corporations to fund mechanisms to eradicate child labor from supply chains.
Stronger labor rights and conditions by raising the minimum wage, ending discrimination against farmworkers, regularizing the status of the current immigrant workforce, protecting the right to organize, and preventing states from eroding labor standards.
A social protection system which prevents all children and families from falling into poverty, and which includes undocumented migrants and unaccompanied children.
This shared agenda has been compiled by representatives of non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and trade unions working in the fields of child labor and exploitation, labor rights, unaccompanied children, and children’s rights. Critically, it includes the perspectives of survivors and people from impacted communities. It provides clear recommendations to end child labor in all its forms,and will be a critical tool for legislators and practitioners at local, state, and national levels.