FIRST ON FOX: Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is introducing legislation on Wednesday that would force large corporations to take significant steps to eradicate the use of child labor in their workforces — amid reports of an “explosive” growth of unaccompanied minors being trafficked.
The Child Labor Elimination Act would require large corporations (defined as those that bring in over $500 million a year) to make a series of efforts to crack down on the use of child labor, including compelling them to conduct independent audits of their supply chains to ensure their suppliers and service providers are not using child labor.
The bill would also make those companies submit reports to the Labor Department on the audits and the steps they are taking to stamp out the use of child labor. The reports would also be published online. The DOL, meanwhile, would report to Congress on the companies found to have been involved in the use of child labor.
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The bill also comes with enforcement measures to allow the DOL to hit businesses with damages up to $500 million if, after being given notice, they are in violation of child labor laws. The agency can also make requests for injunctions, restraining orders and other legal tools.
The legislation comes in response to reports by the New York Times of a massive spike in the use of child labor that coincided with an increase of unaccompanied minors coming across the border. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics show the number of unaccompanied minors has surged from 33,239 in fiscal year 2020 to more than 146,000 in fiscal year 2021 and 152,000 in fiscal year 2022. So far in fiscal year 2023, there have been more than 70,000 encounters of UACs.
Republicans have pinned the crisis onto the administration’s “open-border policies” that they say have facilitated the historic migrant crisis and the spike in child trafficking.
“Joe Biden’s open-border policies have created the biggest human smuggling and child labor operation in history. Large corporations are turning a blind eye to the crisis and exploiting it for their own gain,” Hawley said in a statement. “If the administration won’t act to protect kids, Congress must. This legislation compels large corporations to eradicate child labor in their workplace and holds those accountable who fail to act.”
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Hawley recently wrote to the FBI urging Director Christopher Wray to make tackling the crisis a “leading FBI priority.”
Hawley recently asked DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at a Senate hearing why he should not be impeached over the matter. Mayorkas accused the Missouri lawmaker of making “false statements” and highlighted DHS’ efforts to focus on worksite enforcement and investigating “unscrupulous employers” who employ children.
In March, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra was asked about a report that his agency has been unable to contact about 85,000 minors. He pointed to the limits imposed on the agency when it comes to turning the minors over to a sponsor.
“Congress has given us certain authorities,” Becerra added. “Our authorities end when we have found a suitable sponsor to place that child with. We try and do some follow-up, but neither the child or the sponsor is actually obligated to follow up with us.”
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Last month, an HHS whistleblower detailed her experiences to a House panel of the trafficking she saw when volunteering at an emergency intake center in 2021.
“Whether intentional or not, it could be argued that the U.S. government has become the middleman in a large scale, multibillion-dollar child trafficking operation that is run by bad actors seeking to profit off of the lives of children,” Tara Lee Rodas said.
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