FERN Finds Most Child-Labor Violations in Nation’s Food Sector

For her FERN exclusive story, “The child workers who feed you,” Teresa Cotsirilos dug into investigation data from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division and found that more than 75 percent of recent child-labor violations were committed by employers in the food industry.

The agency uncovered more than 12,000 child labor violations in the nation’s food system between Jan. 1, 2018 and Nov. 23, 2022. Investigators found minors working illegally at vegetable farms in Texas and California, at dairy farms in Minnesota and New Hampshire and at poultry plants in Georgia and Mississippi. Children are involved in every step of the food supply chain, working illegally from farm to table.

Mother Jones syndicated the story, which allowed the piece to reach 8M online readers, in addition to a social media audience of 2.7M. On Twitter alone, their link to the story was shared over 19K times.

This story was included in the Hunter College’s Food Policy Watch newsletter, as well as the U.S. Right to Know Review newsletter.

Teresa was interviewed on WBUR’s Here & Now. That piece was shared by WPSU, a Central PA public media station.

Teresa was also interviewed for Amanda Little’s Bloomberg Opinion piece titled, “Want Lower Food Prices? Ease the Crackdown on Immigration.” This piece was syndicated by McClatchy and published in several of their local papers, including Idaho Statesman, Lexington Herald-Leader, Wichita Eagle, Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, and Tri-City Herald.

About a week after the story was published, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Peter Welch (D-VT), members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced the bicameral Child Labor Exploitation Accountability Act, legislation aimed at holding corporations accountable for the exploitation of children and workers in the food industry. The bill prohibits the Department of Agriculture (USDA) from engaging in contracts with companies that have committed egregious labor law violations and/or contracted with vendors that have incurred, and failed to rectify, serious worker or labor infractions.

We also saw a good deal of social media activity around the story:

It was engaged with on Twitter by Mother Jones (826K followers), Modern Farmer (69K followers), The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University (located in Massachusetts, 3.4K followers), Sarah E Dempsey (UNC Department of Communications, 360 followers), (Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI), 9.9K followers), Public Justice Food Project (1.8K followers), FoodPrint (49.5K followers), Vanessa García Polanco, MS (Young Farmers Coaltion, 18.7K followers), 2.5K followers), Edgar Franks (advocate for farm workers, 500 followers), Food Chain Workers Alliance (11.8K followers), Anna Canning (food systems communications, 530 followers), Polo’s Pantry (food systems advocacy, 2.3K followers), Derek Polka (LA Regional Food Bank, 290 followers), WSR Network (Worker-Driven Social Responsibility Network, 1.6K followers), Clarissa A. León (deputy director at Documented NY, 1.1K followers), Penn State Center for Agricultural and Shale Law (2.1K followers), Stacy Malkan (U.S. Right to Know, 3.9K followers), Vicki Hird (author of Rebugging the Planet’ & ‘Perfectly Safe to Eat?’, 10.3K followers), Jane Black (food blogger & host of Pressure Cooker podcast, 18.8K followers), Devinder Sharma (writer, 70.9K followers), Andrew Wasley (investigative journalist, 2.4K followers), and Freeville Farm (small Hudson Valley Farm, 210 followers).

On Instagram, we saw engagement for the story from Youth for Climate India (enviro conservation org, 12.6K followers), Good Natured Films (grassroots stories, 75 followers), CloverCroft Farm (regenerative and organic farm in Ontario, Canada, 1.6K followers), Annie Levy (cook & gardener, 4.2K followers), Ethical Meat Handbook (8.7K followers), Boots on the Ground podcast (1.3K followers), Elizabeth O’Dean (food systems educator, 210 followers), and David Lehnherr Photography (110 followers).

We also saw shares of the story on Facebook by Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT, non-profit organization that works with Iowa landowners to protect the land and food grown) and on LinkedIn by Alexandria Herr (climate journalist and researcher).

Overall, across all social media, the story saw around 40K impressions and 1.2K engagements.

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