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DOL issues annual report on child labor

The Department of Labor has issued its annual “Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor” report.

The report highlights child labor abuse around the world and the efforts some countries are making to eliminate the problem. It includes findings on the prevalence of the worst forms of child labor in 131 countries and territories.

These rankings are meant to serve as a risk assessment tool as companies evaluate their global operations. An estimated 160 million children are still engaged in child labor around the world, with nearly half working in conditions likely to harm their safety or health.

The report also includes a review of actions the U.S. has taken to address its own child labor violations, including the creation of a DOL-led interagency task force to promote information sharing between federal agencies as well as enhanced enforcement efforts.

Between October 1, 2022, and July 20, 2023, for example, the agency closed 765 child labor cases involving 4,474 children employed in violation of federal child labor laws and assessed more than $6.6 million in penalties as a result. That represents a 44% increase in affected children and an 87% increase in penalties over the same time period in the previous fiscal year. The Wage and Hour Division had 700 additional open child labor cases, as of July 2023.

Hot goods

The child labor report comes on the heels of the DOL’s Field Assistance Bulletin 2023-03, issued in August, addressing child labor “hot goods.”

A “hot goods” provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits the interstate shipment of any goods produced in an establishment where oppressive child labor has occurred.

The law also prevents subsequent downstream shipment of such goods, if the goods were removed from the producing establishment in the 30 days following a child labor violation.

As part of the bulletin, the DOL signaled its intention to use “all appropriate enforcement tools, including the hot goods provision” to combat child labor violations.

Online tools

In its continued efforts to end child labor, the DOL has also made updates to several online tools, including its “Comply Chain” website, the online “Better Trade Tool,” and its “Sweat & Toil” app. The latter includes a list of products, by country, that are likely produced by forced or indentured child labor. Coffee, cotton, cocoa, and toys are just a few of the items that appear on the list, in certain countries.

Takeaways for U.S. employers

Together, these publications are a reminder for U.S. companies to consider whether their own operations need to be analyzed for potential child labor violation.

Businesses that employ minors must make sure that they are following all applicable child labor laws and should take steps to ensure their contractors and business partners do the same.