Child Labor Again

Child labor law violations have been in the headlines frequently in recent years. Violations have risen by 69%, and 10 states have introduced bills designed to weaken the protections of these laws.

Kids aged 13 to 17 worked illegally on night shifts in slaughterhouses, cleaning dangerous equipment. Auto manufacturers had children as young as 14 working on the lines. Youths of 16 were employed in a limber mill, and one was fatally injured.

Members of Congress have called attention to the problem, but states are responding to labor shortages by loosening restrictions on child labor, and federal laws have not been shored up to prevent that.

Where does this end?

Consumers and employers have been called upon to work against this trend, but now another group have stepped into the fray: shareholders. Specifically, shareholders from McDonald’s and Wendy’s are demanding that the franchisees parent corporations take action to end the abuse of child labor in the fast food restaurants.

McDonald’s had child-labor law violations in 15% of their restaurants and Wendy’s had 9% between 2020 and the third quarter of 2023. This was 15 violations and 9 violations respectively per 100 restaurants, not necessarily violations in 15% of the locations. In fact, McDonald’s told The Washington Post that the violations they counted were in franchisee’s independent restaurants, not in corporate stores.

Will corporations listen to shareholders? Tyson recently rejected requests for a child labor audit from some of their investors, after putting the question to a vote. McDonald’s and Wendy’s shareholder objections came from a group of investors described as influential, so it may come down to how many shareholders speak out, and how influential they are.


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