The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


Instances of youth injuries or death compelled the Department of Labor (DOL) to respond with proposed rules. The proposed Child Labor Regulations would have promoted parity between agricultural and non-agricultural child labor provisions. Lawmakers, however, erroneously mischaracterized the legislation as harmful to “family farms.” Strong opposition came from farming families and agri-industry representatives who argued that the proposed revisions would eliminate the “parental exemption” from the Fair Labor and Standards Act. As a result, DOL withdrew the proposed standards. The proposed rules would have increased safety standards and provided awareness of the dangers youths face in the agriculture industry. Children employed in farm work are laboring in dangerous conditions and families are now left to overcome emotional and legal consequences. Agricultural law, priorities, and policies coincide to help farm operators procure “cheap labor” while jeopardizing the health, safety, and welfare of children across the nation. Since the 1930s, Congress has authorized numerous federal exemptions that allow children to be employed on their family’s farm. The exemptions, however, failed to protect all young agricultural and non-agricultural workers. The causal relationship between cultural norms found in the agrarian sector, and injuries or fatalities of youth working in agriculture, underscore the conscious disregard of the dangerous nature of food production. Because of the danger, the proposed DOL revisions are imperative. A four-pronged approach in enhancing youth protections should be taken. This approach involves debunking myths around the agrarian lifestyle. Nonetheless, the DOL proposed rules are essential to protect all children working in food production.

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