October 31, 2014
State Labor Department is doing nothing to stop it
What happens when elected officials like Commission of Labor Cherie Berry care more about bosses than workers?
Nadeen Bir is advocacy and organizing director for Student Action with Farmworkers, and Nadeen says North Carolina must do more to protect child workers in an oped published today in the News & Observer:
We need N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry to act. While national Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is tweeting about ending child labor around the world, reports from researchers and journalists are calling out North Carolina for something we have known for years: Our state is home to thousands of child farmworkers laboring in tobacco fields under hazardous conditions.
It is becoming more difficult to turn a blind eye to the photos and the facts. Yet in 2012 when public health and farmworker advocates met with Berry and urged her to do the job her agency is charged with – protecting workers – she refused to support efforts that would bring19th century labor laws up to speed with 21st century realities.
Despite an increasingly glaring spotlight on these realities, especially for child farmworkers, there continues to be no reaction from our labor department. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch released a report based on disturbing interviews with child tobacco workers as young as 7 years old working in North Carolina and other Southern states. Nearly three-fourths reported getting sick at work with symptoms like nausea, headaches, skin conditions and respiratory illness; over half had seen pesticides being sprayed in the fields where they worked or in neighboring fields. Many of these pesticides are poisonous neurotoxins linked to long-term effects such as cancer, learning and cognitive problems, and reproductive health issues.
Human Rights Watch report
Children working on tobacco farms in the United States are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers, Human Rights Watch said in a 138-page report released back in May.
According to Human Rights Watch, “The report is based on interviews with 141 child tobacco workers, ages seven to 17 (view infographic).”
Children reported vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working on tobacco farms, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many also said they worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear.
Watch the video, MADE IN THE USA: Child Labor & Tobacco: