Last week was National Farmworker
Awareness Week, as well as the celebration of the birthday and legacy
of Cesar Chavez. As we honor these significant events, it is important
to realize the struggle for farmworker justice that Cesar Chavez
symbolizes still continues today. Many victories were made in his
time, but much more remains to be done in order to provide farm
laborers with the protections, compensation, and respect they deserve.
Perhaps the most shocking issue remaining is the presence of child
labor in U.S. fields.
Approximately 400,000 children are currently employed in
agriculture throughout our country, receiving far fewer protections
under federal law than any other working youth. The Fair Labor
Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) was established to stop the use of child
labor in the U.S. The minimum age set forth in the FLSA is 16 for all
non-agricultural industries, yet it allows children to legally perform
farm work at age 12 for an unlimited number of hours outside of
school. Children performing agricultural work deemed by law as
“hazardous” can be as young as 16, while hazardous work in other every
other industry is strictly reserved for adults.
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S.
according to Department of Labor (DOL) statistics, with a fatality rate
for youth working in agriculture nearly six times higher than the
fatality rate for youth working in other industries. Children who work
in the fields are exposed to the dangers posed by toxic pesticides,
adult-sized tools, huge machinery, unsanitary conditions, and long
hours in the hot sun. Circumstances that are considered unconscionable
in any other line of work remain legal and accepted common practices in
Bon Appétit Management Company was the first food service company
to address the issues related to where our food comes from and how it
is grown. The company believes the entire food supply chain should be
safe, transparent and fair for consumers, farmers, and farmworkers
It is a grave injustice that a 12-year-old can legally perform
back-breaking farm work in 100-degree weather for 10 to 12 hours per
day, but that same child is prohibited from working in an
air-conditioned office for one hour. Farmworker children should be
afforded the same rights and protections as all other children. The
Children’s Act for Responsible Employment of 2009 (CARE Bill), H.R.
3564 seeks to equalize this injustice.
If passed, the CARE Bill would raise the age and work hour
standards for children in agriculture to meet those set for children
working in all other industries. It would increase penalties for child
labor violations, while also requiring data collection and reporting on
child labor in the U.S., work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths
of minors working in agriculture. Additionally, it would provide young
workers with greater protections against pesticide exposure in the
fields, taking into account the additional risks posed to children.
The CARE Bill would also preserve current exemptions for family farms,
thus continuing to allow children of any age to work on farms owned or
operated by their parent or legal guardian.
Bon Appétit Management Company supports the CARE Bill because it
addresses the inequities and harsh conditions faced by our nation’s
young farmworkers. In honor of Farmworker Awareness Week and Cesar
Chavez Day, please call or write your Congressional Representative and
urge them to support the CARE Bill.