Earlier this week, three Washington state berry farms were fined for using child labor. The farms in question, George Hoffman Farms, Berry Good Farms, and Columbia Fruit LLC, were discovered to have unofficially employed nine children between the ages of six and eleven. The three farms were punished with fines totaling over $70,000.
The federal Fair Labor Standards forbids children under the age of twelve from working in agricultural jobs, even with parental approval and even if they are supporting employed family members. Children over the age of twelve can work on farms, but require significant documentation and child agricultural labor is significantly regulated.
The Washington case raises some difficult questions regarding agricultural labor and migrant workers. According to many farmers, migrant laborers have a long tradition of working alongside family, particularly in agricultural jobs.
Some of the Washington farmers claim that underage children followed their parents and families onto the field, working without official sanction by the various berry farms. The problem, however, have determined that employers who benefit from the labor of children, whether they officially hired the workers or not, are liable.
USDA officials have reported that the berry farms in question can appeal the fines, and many expect that they will do so shortly. Representatives from the farm have declined to speak ot nthe media.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer