Bill Cracks Down on Child Labor in Tobacco Fields

Washington – The bipartisan children’s advocacy group First Focus Campaign for Children today endorsed legislation, sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Congressman David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), to prohibit child labor in tobacco-related corporate agriculture. The endorsement letter was also signed by more than 50 other children’s, health, and labor, and justice advocates.

“Senator Durbin and Congressman Cicilline get it,” said First Focus Campaign for Children president Bruce Lesley. “We don’t let kids consume tobacco products – we sure shouldn’t let kids risk their lives to produce them.”

The legislation responds to reports by Human Rights Watch that children have suffered injuries from sharp tools and heavy machinery on tobacco plantations, as well as illnesses associated with nicotine, pesticide, and other dangerous chemicals. The Campaign for Children urged a key congressional committee to hold hearings on child tobacco labor last year, but the committee did not act.

The United States Department of Labor reports that the 2011 farm fatality rate for all workers was more than seven times higher than the fatality rate for other industries. The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety reports that, in 2012, a child died in an agriculture industry incident once every three days, and about 38 children were injured in such incidents every day.

Though child labor laws protect children from most dangerous occupations, a Depression-era regulatory exception allows tobacco producers and other agriculture industries to employ children in dangerous work. In 2012, the Department of Labor scuttled a proposed regulatory reform that would have prohibited corporate farms from assigning children to the most dangerous forms of agribusiness labor. Family farms would have been covered by an exception to that rule. In an unusual move, the Labor Department’s announcement went beyond withdrawing the rule, committing the agency to not pursuing the regulatory reform for the duration of the Obama Administration.

“Congress should advance this important legislation, but reform shouldn’t end there. The Obama Administration made a commitment – but it was the wrong commitment, and we want them to reverse it.” said Lesley.

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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit

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