‘Applies Only to Child Labor’:Child Advocates Say Wal-Mart Deal Underscores Pervasive Mindset at Labor Department

Child Labor Coalition

Contact: Carol McKay, NCL, 202-835-3323 ext.114

media [at] nclnet.org

Washington, DC--The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) criticizes the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on its child labor record, calling it a deplorable disgrace.

“Yesterday’s critical report by DOL’s Inspector General on the DOL/Wal-Mart settlement agreement underscores the CLC’s criticism of Labor Department actions that translate into a poor commitment to protecting working youth,” says Darlene Adkins, CLC Coordinator. “Standing alone, the Wal-Mart settlement is troubling with serious repercussions for child labor enforcement,” Adkins said, “but, the big picture is even worse. This is the latest example of a Labor Department immune to the importance of child labor laws.”

On October 31, 2005, the US Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report in which it concluded that the Wal-Mart agreement (January 2005) gave significant concessions to Wal-Mart and asked for nothing in return, save measures that were already in place or required by law. Namely, the agreement provided for advance notification by DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of Wal-Mart child labor investigations and gave Wal-Mart the ability to avoid civil money penalties for child labor violations.

The agreement evolved after the WHD investigated 27 Wal-Mart stores in three states and cited child labor hazardous occupation violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. As a result, the WHD pursued a strategy to enter into a national, corporate-wide child labor compliance agreement with Wal-Mart stores, Inc. In doing so, Wal-Mart lawyers wrote significant provisions of the agreement, which did not receive adequate WHD review and approval. Additionally, the Office of the Solicitor (SOL) was not consulted, nor requested to review or participate in the settlement negotiations or the development or review of the agreement despite extensive involvement of Wal-Mart attorneys.

This latest child labor scandal follows a string of other DOL decisions, actions, and inactions:

In November 2004, DOL statistics made public disclose that during the last four years, the time spent by DOL investigators in enforcing the child labor laws has decreased by 21.6 percent. The equivalent of only 34 full-time investigators are available to enforce the law, even though there are an estimated 3.2 million workers under age 18. This amounts to one investigator per 95,000 working children. Moreover, even though the maximum fine that can be imposed for a child labor violation is $11,000, the average fine actually imposed by DOL last year was only $717.78. This is within the lowest seven percent of the entire range of fines, from $1.00 up to $11,000, that DOL has the authority to assess.

In September 2002, Congress’s watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), issued a report that was highly critical of DOL’s child labor enforcement priorities. DOL has argued with the findings of the report and done little to heed this report, and what it has done shows that DOL’s enforcement activities continue to suffer from serious flaws.

In May 2002, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a detailed study, commissioned by DOL, which pointed out 21 revisions to existing Hazardous Order regulations and 17 new safety hazards to include to adequately protect young workers from hazardous work. Since the report’s release, the DOL has failed to develop a regulatory timetable for implementing the NIOSH recommendations. Meanwhile, on average 230,000 working youth are injured in the workplace every year and one youth dies every five days. Anywhere up to 500,000 children and youth are working as hired farmworkers, harvesting our nation’s fruits and vegetables, at levels of protection far below those of all other working youth.

Just how important is child labor to DOL? In rebuttal to the Inspector General’s report and conclusion that the advance notice has been provided to Wal-Mart for WHD investigations involving matters other than child labor situations, the Labor Department contends that the requirement for advance notification applies only to child labor violations.

“What kind of a defense is this?” says Adkins. “It’s like saying, ‘Well, gee, we’re not doing this for any other aspect of enforcement – it’s only working kids that are impacted.’ Young workers are a population our government should be most aggressive about protecting – not the give away group in a sweetheart deal with industry.”


The Child Labor Coalition is a group of more than 40 organizations, representing consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad.