e tend to think of child labor as a thing of the past, a peculiarity of the early days of the Industrial Age. We call to mind black and white photographs of kids laboring in factories and warehouses, blanketed in grime and soot.
The reality is that child labor is still “alive and well,” even here in the United States.
On The Valley Labor Report, we have been closely following reports right here in Alabama of underage workers being utilized by major corporations such as Hyundai, McDonald’s, and others. And, similarly to picking up a large rock to reveal thousands of pests underneath that you didn’t know were there, we have been horrified by just how widespread and deeply-rooted this problem is.
Lauren Kaori Gurley, labor reporter for the Washington Post, joined the program last week to discuss not only the general issue of child labor in ‘21st Century USA’, but also the consequences, the fallout, since the U.S. government started investigating (after not a little coaxing from independent media).
“We spoke to a man who is now in his thirties who worked there when he was a minor back in 2001 — so this has been going on for a long time,” said Gurley, referring to an interview she conducted during an investigation into child labor reports at a meat-packaging facility. “Just the amount of blood and guts that these kids are working in is just insane.”
Gurley has been keeping a close watch and reporting on this issue as it has developed, including observing court cases that have come up in relation. Curiously, the corporations themselves have yet to come under any heavy fire (“except maybe their reputation,” Gurley later pointed out), and instead it’s the parents who are being almost exclusively targeted in this situation by the Law.
“It was interesting… this young girl who worked [at the meat-packaging facility], she is now fourteen but she was thirteen when she worked there… [Her] family, the judge, the attorney that’s prosecuting the parents, and the girl sort of gave very differing accounts,” Gurley described one particular court case. “The girl was like: ‘It wasn’t that bad!’ But… it was hard to get a real description from her. The court records just make things sound insane! It was interesting to get all these different perspectives. There’s a lot going on, in terms of the family and the girl — their story — versus what the prosecutor and the judge were saying.”
We don’t doubt that the parents have played a role in these incidents of child labor, but the fact that the bosses are (as usual) getting off without much more than a slap on the wrist is truly perplexing.
Watch the full discussion with Lauren Kaori Gurley on U.S. child labor and the bosses dodging any legal responsibility on YouTube:
Joe Harrison is graphic designer and video producer for The Valley Labor Report, as well as an orchestral composer. Having a long history with self-centered, manipulative, and abusive employers, he joined TVLR in November 2021 in an effort to raise awareness of worker struggles and the severe imbalance of power in the workplace and the nation as a whole.