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News from EPI New policy guide details how states can strengthen laws to fight oppressive child labor

Amidst a stark rise in child labor violations, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute and the NYU Wagner Labor Initiative provides a comprehensive list of policy recommendations to strengthen enforcement and deter child labor violations. The recommendations are targeted particularly toward lawmakers at the state level, although many are relevant for federal and local officials as well. 

The report recommends two critical measures frequently put forward by advocates: increasing funding for enforcement and increasing civil and criminal penalties for violations. 

In addition, the report presents an array of impactful yet less-often-highlighted avenues for preventing and addressing violations. All of them draw on existing precedents within various federal, state, or local employment lawsdemonstrating their feasibilityand many are also low-cost or likely revenue neutral. These recommendations include:  

  • Blocking businesses with widespread or unremedied child labor violations (directly or in supply chains) from becoming government contractors; 
  • Creating easier methods to hold lead corporations accountable, instead of allowing them to deflect responsibility to subcontractors and staffing agencies; 
  • Creating damages or restitution for child labor victims, to provide redress for them and overcome obstacles to reporting violations; 
  • Creating a whistleblower or private right of action for child labor violations, to increase detection of violations; 
  • Changing workers’ compensation laws to allow damages lawsuits against employers when minors are injured or killed on the job while assigned to work that violates child labor laws; 
  • Allowing enforcers to stop production or distribution of products made with illegal child labor, through stop work orders or state-level “hot goods” provisions; 
  • Requiring public disclosure so that consumers are informed of company child labor violations; and
  • Adding workers’ rights education to public high school curricula. 

“State lawmakers can have a tremendous impact on protecting children and stopping child labor violations,” said Terri Gerstein, Director of the NYU Wagner Labor Initiative and author of the report. “Policymakers should develop a package of measures that will increase the likelihood of detection, deter violations by creating genuinely meaningful consequences, and help support children who have been victims.”  


The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. EPI believes every working person deserves a good job with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. To achieve this goal, EPI conducts research and analysis on the economic status of working America. EPI proposes public policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of low- and middle-income workers and assesses policies with respect to how they affect those workers.

The NYU Wagner Labor Initiative at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service explores, advocates for, and accelerates the often-untapped potential of government in safeguarding and advancing workers’ rights. The Labor Initiative helps government work for workers, by serving as a hub of analysis, research, and implementation guidance, as well as idea generation and dissemination, related to the role of government in advancing and protecting workers’ rights.