A bipartisan Senate bill, introduced late Wednesday, will tighten penalties for child labor violations, create new criminal penalties, and allow victims of child labor violations to file civil lawsuits.
According to the Department of Labor, these legislative efforts by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Todd Young (R-Indiana) come in the wake of a 69% increase in child labor violations.
"The latest data shows that child labor exploitation is not a thing of the past and is not confined to the developing world. This bipartisan bill strengthens our country's labor laws to better protect our children," said Young.
"Some in the industry would prefer these fines to always be low," Schatz said. He explained that he was motivated to act when he learned the fines were "paltry."
"You know, a 16-year-old died at a lumber mill; several other kids got injured, and the fine is so small it's the cost of doing business," he said.
If passed, the bill would introduce a new criminal penalty for those who repeatedly employ children, including fines of up to $50,000 and a year of imprisonment.
Earlier this year, NBC News reported that a company that hired children to clean Midwest slaughterhouses had hired the same known minor twice in six months.
The new bill would also increase fines for child labor from a maximum of $15,000 to a new maximum of $132,270. In the case of serious injury or death, companies can be fined up to $601,150 per violation. Currently, the maximum fine is $25,000.
The bill would also allow children harmed by child labor violations to seek compensation.
The Department of Labor has identified child labor violations in a variety of industries, from fast-food restaurants to meatpacking plants, factories, and construction.
Under federal law, children under 18 are not allowed to work in most manufacturing jobs due to workplace hazards.
Employers who hire children often claim it is difficult to determine whether a worker has reached legal working age because they use fake documents to confirm the worker is over 18.