The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden announced measures to crack down on child labor on Monday amid a steep rise in violations and investigative reports on illegal employment of migrant minors in dangerous U.S. industries.
U.S. officials said the Labor Department had seen a nearly 70-percent increase in child labor violations since 2018, including in hazardous occupations. In the last fiscal year, 835 companies were found to have violated child labor laws.
U.S. officials told reporters during a conference call on Monday that the administration was probing the employment of children at companies. It has created an inter-agency task force on child labor and plans to target industries where violations are most likely to occur for investigations.
The Democratic administration is also pushing for heavier penalties for companies that violate these laws and more funding for enforcement and oversight, they said. The U.S. federal law prohibits people under age 16 from working in most factory settings, and those under 18 are barred from the most dangerous jobs in industrial plants.
"This isn't a 19th century problem, this isn't a 20th century problem, this is happening today," said one of the officials on the call. "We are seeing children across the country working in conditions that they should never ever be employed in the first place."
The maximum civil monetary penalty is currently just $15,138 per child, the administration noted in a press release, a figure that's "not high enough to be a deterrent."
The U.S. Department of Labor opened an investigation into Hearthside Food Solutions, a U.S. food contractor that makes and packages products for well-known snack and cereal brands, for reportedly employing underage workers and violating child labor laws, officials confirmed on the call.