News & Commentary

December 23, 2022

Julia Deng

Julia Deng is a student at Harvard Law School.

Carmakers face allegations of links to forced labor in Xinjiang, more instances of America’s systematic child labor problem, and the NLRB gets some more funding.

The Senate Finance Committee is conducting a probe into car makers like Tesla, Mercedes, and GM, requesting specific information about their links to forced labor in Xinjiang. Several weeks ago, Sheffield Hallam University released research that suggested forced labor is more deeply enmeshed in global supply chains than regulators previously knew. Car makers in particular may be importing products of forced Uyghur labor such as steel and aluminum, electric vehicle batteries, vehicle electronic systems, tires, and replacement parts. Due to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), car makers now face a rebuttable presumption that the importation of any goods from Xinjiang is prohibited. This Senate probe will supplement US Customs and Border Protection enforcement of the UFLPA, which even prior to the Sheffield report, was inadequate to meet the scale of the issue.

As Anita reported yesterday, violations of child labor laws have gone up 37% in 2022. Crumbl Cookies, whose egregious violations were just described in our daily News & Commentary, is far from alone.

  • Over the course of two years, one restaurant in Maine has accrued 691 child labor law violations, most of which involved children working longer hours than permitted by state rules. The Quarry Tap Room has reached a $17,275 settlement with the Maine Department of Labor. Co-owner Steven Lachance said: “These laws are in place to protect the youth… We’re certainly not above the law, and we admit we did fall short of meeting some of these expectations.” He added, “We were looking for additional workers, and were able to find them with these young kids, who were willing to step up, get off the couch and earn a wage for themselves, which is pretty impressive.”
  • A Chick-Fil-A in North Carolina was cited by the federal Department of Labor for violations of various regulations, including some related to the use of child labor — such as the prohibition on children performing hazardous jobs involving a trash compactor. The Chick-Fil-A was also cited for paying employees in meal vouchers. In total, the restaurant paid $6,450 in civil money penalties and $235 in back wages to seven employees.
  • Finally, the UAW has issued a statement on the ongoing reports of child labor at Hyundai and Kia suppliers in Alabama. It criticizes the Biden Administration for encouraging more commerce with the carmakers: “[N]o special exemptions to the Inflation Reduction Act should be extended to Hyundai and Kia for their electric vehicles. Their facilities should not be granted local, state or federal assistance under any programs and monies already granted should be clawed back.”

Congress’s $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package currently includes $25 million of new funding for the NLRB, bringing the agency’s total budget up to $299 million. The new money will prevent furloughs, addressing a major point of discontent among the agency’s employees. In response to the threat of furloughs and changes to telework policies, NLRB staffers from across the country held a rally outside of agency offices in DC on December 8, holding signs that read “NLRB: Pro-Employee on the Outside, Union Busting on the Inside!!!” and “Hypocrisy” next to an image of general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo overlaid on Marie Antoinette. It is not clear whether the funding can help the Board fill hundreds of vacated jobs. The Board has lost 30% of its workforce since 2010, even while union election filings have increased 53% just this past fiscal year.

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