Watchdog investigating Department of Labor response to surge in child labor violations

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The Department of Labor’s (DOL) independent watchdog notified the agency on Monday it was launching an audit of the department’s response to the surge in child labor violations.

In a memo to Jessica Looman, the principal deputy administrator for the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said it is initiating a review of the division’s “efforts to curtail child labor law violations, as well as the cause for rising child labor law violations.”

The memo, which was published publicly online, did not provide additional details of the audit but said the OIG would discuss the “audit’s objective, scope, and methodology” at a forthcoming meeting.

The audit comes amid a surge in child labor violations over the last few years, with cases rising 69 percent between 2018 and 2022. In response, an Interagency Task Force to Combat Child Labor Exploitation was formed in February, and, together with DOL officials, the task force has sought to take a whole-of-government approach to combat the problem.

In July, the DOL reported that as a result of increased enforcement of child labor laws, the Wage and Hour Division reported that between Oct. 1 and July 20, the agency concluded 765 child labor cases involving 4,474 children employed in violation of federal law. The agency, as of last month’s report, was still pursuing more than 700 open child labor cases.

“This enforcement data demonstrates the department’s commitment to identifying and addressing the child labor violations more aggressively than in the department’s history,” the report said at the time.

“Child labor is an issue that gets to the heart of who we are as a country and who we want to be. Like the President, we believe that any child working in a dangerous or hazardous environment is one child too many,” acting Labor Secretary Julie Su said in the report last month.

“The Department of Labor is using the tools and resources at our disposal to ensure companies take responsibility for compliance with federal labor law, and that includes up and down their supply chains. We must all work together to make sure that children are safe, healthy and protected from exploitation,” she continued.

The surge also comes as many states take steps to loosen labor laws around teenagers in the workplace. At least 11 states have recently made efforts to get minors into the workforce, as states struggle with a tight labor market.

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