Home Minnesota Educator Child labor revelations warrant greater scrutiny and action against employers who break the law

Child labor revelations warrant greater scrutiny and action against employers who break the law

Share on

By David Aron, Education Minnesota General Counsel

As much as we would like to believe that child labor no longer exists in our country or our state, that is sadly not the case. In December, a Wisconsin company called Packers Sanitation Services, Inc., agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor into the company’s use of minors at meatpacking facilities in eight states, including at JBS Foods in Worthington. According to a recent report by CNN, the company “employed the children to clean meat processing equipment including back saws, brisket saws and head splitters. At least three children were injured.”1

In late February, The New York Times published a report on similar child labor abuses occurring in over 20 states, including Minnesota.2 The article details how a wave of unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, have found themselves working in our country’s most dangerous and physically demanding jobs, often to pay debts to those who helped them reach the U.S. Minnesota-based General Mills is also mentioned because it contracts with Hearthside, a food packaging company found to employ child workers.

It is clear from these upsetting stories that certain companies are willing to exploit the labor of children fleeing desperate circumstances in their home countries for profit. It is also clear that we need to be doing more as a state and country to deter these abuses from happening in the first place.

While educators are not at all responsible for the exploitation of migrant children, the New York Times article highlights that their relationships with their students give them knowledge about possible abuses that few others might have. The New York Times article quoted a Miami teacher who said that almost all of the eighth-grade students in her classroom carried adult workloads outside of school.

Educators in communities with migrant children can play a role in these efforts by familiarizing themselves with Minnesota’s child labor laws3 and reporting suspected violations to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry at dli.laborstandards@state.mn.us.

Important legal guidance: Educators cannot and should not share any information about a specific student (names or other identifying information) to anyone outside the school without a subpoena from law enforcement directed to the school district. However, information about specific employers in your community that may be employing students under the age of 14, or under the age of 16 past 7 p.m. during the school year, can and should be reported to the Minnesota Department of Labor.

If you have additional questions or suspicions about child labor law violations or child trafficking that may be occurring in your community, please don’t hesitate to contact your Education Minnesota field staff, who can work with our legal department in connecting you or your members to the appropriate authorities.

1 Ramishah Maruf, “This company employed children to clean razor-sharp saws using hazardous chemicals” CNN, (Feb. 17, 2023), https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/17/business/packers-sanitation-child-labor/index.html

2 Hannah Dreier, “Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S.” New York Times, (Feb. 25, 2023), https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/25/us/unaccompanied-migrant-child-workers-exploitation.html 

3 A fact sheet is available online at https://www.dli.mn.gov/business/employment-practices/age-hours-restrictions

Similar Posts