Mighty Earth endorses open letter to end child labor in US agriculture

Mighty Earth endorsed an open letter led by the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), of which we are a member, to end child labor in US agriculture. We are proud to support the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety, H.R. 3394The legislation has been endorsed by 150 organizations.

This is a crucial bill. Between 400,000 and 500,000 children are working in the US farming industry, often exposed to pesticides and routinely exploited. Child labor is not only an issue Mighty Earth campaigns against in cocoa and other tropical commodities. In US agriculture it remains a real, lasting problem – one that makes it harder to eradicate this problem worldwide, given the influence of the US on global trends, laws, and policies.

In the USA, children as young as 12 work in fields as many as 12 hours a day, six months a year. There is no maximum number of hours worked a day, aside from being outside of school hours. Kids are exposed to the sun, harmful pesticides, hazardous conditions, and dangerous work – which frequently threatens their health and lives. Children can experience up to three times greater dangers from exposure to pesticides than adults, due to their size and stage of development. The fatality rate is six times that in any other industry: children account for 20% of all deaths on US farms.

Agriculture is a hazardous occupation, but no statistics are maintained on US child laborers and serious accidents. Children who work on farms spend on average 30 hours a week, even during times of the year when school is in session. Of the children who work on US farms, 50% of them will not graduate from high school. Many are doomed to poverty. The United States Department of Labor estimates that children earn about $1,000 per year. The agriculture industry is subject to more lenient labor laws than any other occupation in the United States, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has different standards for children working in agriculture than in any other industry.

If passed, this law would protect all children working in US agriculture, changing hundreds of thousands of lives. Farmworkers provide essential services to the nation, often at great risk to themselves, making sacrifices for others, to keep people well-fed. It is time to stop treating them as expendable.

This is also a personal matter for Mighty Earth. Our colleague Kristin Urquiza’s four grandparents were migrant farmworkers along with her father, aunts, and uncles who worked in the fields as children before school and in the summer until they graduated from high school. These courageous men and women shaped Kristin’s future with their sacrifices, giving her the opportunities that enriched her life, and have enabled her to become an advocate today for some of the most vulnerable workers in agriculture.

Mighty Earth is signing on to this letter to honor Kristin’s grandparents and all those like them who put the food on our tables.