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Child Labor Law Compliance in the Manufacturing Industry

Pallet stacker truck equipment at warehouse
Credit: iStock/romaset

For the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, protecting children in the workplace is our top priority. The Division is responsible for enforcing foundational labor standards, including the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards affecting employees in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments.

We know safe first jobs allow young people to develop skills, earn money, and gain valuable experience—these are the kinds of good jobs that can put young workers on the path to good careers. But there's also dangerous work that should never be done by kids. The government and the private sector have a shared responsibility to ensure the safety of all children in the workplace.

The FLSA prohibits the employment of children under age 16 in any workplace where goods are manufactured. In addition, several types of jobs in manufacturing establishments are prohibited for 16- and 17-year-olds, including:

  • Operating most power-driven machines, including grinders, saws, cutting machines, compactors, and balers
  • Operating forklifts, skid-steers, and similar machines
  • Using or cleaning power-driven meat processing machines 
  • Working most jobs in meat and poultry slaughtering and packing plants
  • Manufacturing of brick, tile, and related products
  • Driving or helping a driver
5,800 kids employed in violation

An alarming increase in child labor violations in recent years has galvanized a whole-government response to keep young workers safe, and the Department of Labor is taking a lead role. In February 2023, we launched a National Strategic Enforcement Initiative on Child Labor to combat the most egregious and systemic child labor violations. As a result of these efforts, in FY 2023, we concluded 955 investigations that found child labor violations and nearly 5,800 children employed in violation of the law, an 88% increase since 2019. We assessed more than $8 million in penalties for these violations, an 83% increase from the previous year.

The Department of Labor also formed an Interagency Taskforce to Combat Child Labor Exploitation. Participants include the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, all of which are taking concrete steps to prevent children from being exploited by illegal labor practices.

While we’re encouraged by the progress we’re making to keep children safe, we know there’s still much more to do. Recent Department of Labor investigations demonstrate the need for continued compliance assistance, outreach, and enforcement in the manufacturing industry.

As we’ve ramped up enforcement to keep young workers safe from exploitation, we’ve also increased our compliance assistance and outreach efforts across the country. We encourage workers, employers, and other stakeholders to seek compliance assistance using our toll-free helpline at 1-866-4-US-WAGE (487-9243). Our outreach specialists are available nationwide to provide presentations, training, and publications to help workers and employers understand federal child labor laws. Find an outreach specialist near you to request assistance or schedule an event.

Resolving and preventing child labor exploitation gets to the heart of who we are as a country. That's why we urge manufacturers and other employers to collaborate with us to keep kids out of harm’s way – in their facilities and their supply chains. We appreciate your commitment to protecting children and ensuring that their first jobs are safe jobs.

This blog is part of a series on compliance with federal child labor laws in manufacturing. 

About the author

Patty Davidson

Patty Davidson is the deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on LinkedIn and on X at @WHD_DOL.

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