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Jul 01 2014

Child labor abuse in the US

For all the talk about family values in the US, it is appalling how badly children can be treated in this country, either by parents thinking that children are their possessions and subjecting them to abuse or by employers taking advantage of the laws to exploit them for their labor. Samantha Bee turns in another fine report on the scandalous way that children are made to work is appalling conditions. I had not realized that child labor laws were so lax in this country that you can make them work under such harsh and even dangerous conditions.

(This clip aired on June 26, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)

14 comments

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  1. 1
    hyphenman

    Good morning Mano,

    Most Americans think tobacco is bad, so attacking tobacco farming is low-hanging fruit, a cheap shot.

    If the story had gone after those children picking pumpkins or green beans, however, Americans would howl because they think their food is too expensive as it is.

    The hypocrisy here is overwhelming. We pretend that we want justice, caring and fairness, but only so long as we don’t have to pay more for the products we routinely enjoy that are inexpensive because of the absence of justice, caring and fairness.

    Do all you can to make today a better day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  2. 2
    DsylexicHippo

    @#1, hyphenman: There is a difference – the added dimension of nicotine poisoning that you won’t get from picking pumpkins. You are right about the hypocrisy though.

  3. 3
    hyphenman

    @ DyslexictHippo,

    I confess that before this morning I had never heard of this particular hazard. This is what I’ve learned from my subsequent reading:

    Green Tobacco sickness is an occupational illness which affects workers who touch green tobacco plants. It is also called nicotine poisoning or “The Green Monster”.

    When you touch green tobacco leaves, especially wet leaves, you absorb nicotine through the pores of your skin. Nicotine is a powerful stimulant and if you absorb enough of it, you will have some painful symptoms of nicotine poisoning.

    These symptoms can include:

    headache
    nausea and vomiting
    weakness
    abdominal cramps
    dizziness
    difficulty breathing
    difficulty sleeping

    Where the skin has come into contact with the tobacco leaves, it can become irritated and cause a rash. The nicotine can also cause fluctuation in your blood pressure or heart rate.

    You can minimize the illness by taking the following steps:

    Always wear clothing that will protect you, like a long sleeve shirt and gloves
    When your clothing become wet from the plants or perspiration, change to dry clothing.
    Wash your clothing well after each use to remove the nicotine the cloth has absorbed
    Wear clean clothes everyday.

    Cotton shirts and gloves are recommended. Water resistant clothes or gloves increase your risk of heat stress.

    If you get Green Tobacco Sickness, you can see a doctor who can prescribe help for the symptoms. Generally, with time you will feel better, but drinking lots of fluids as if you had the flu will help, too. If your employer has workers compensation, Green Tobacco Sickness is a covered occupational illness.

    While the issue is clearly real, I would not want to diminish the hazards of fieldwork from herbicides and pesticides used on our food crops.

    I also meant to mention earlier that there is a very good reason why child labor laws exempt farm workers: if children could not work family farms, the work would not get done (I grew up in farm country, but not on a working farm). That the laws have not changed to deal with corporate farming and migrant farm workers is a crime.

    Then there was a matter that also disturbed me. While I don’t see any explicit ties, the implication of the report is that the three minors interviewed were working for Kentucky State Senator Paul Hornback.

    Yes, this is Comedy Central and no one involved pretends to be a journalist, but this aspect of the report disturbs me because it call into question tactics used in other reports. I would hate to see Jon Stewart tarred with the James O’Keefe brush.

    Jeff

  4. 4
    AsqJames

    @ hyphenman,

    I also meant to mention earlier that there is a very good reason why child labor laws exempt farm workers: if children could not work family farms, the work would not get done (I grew up in farm country, but not on a working farm). That the laws have not changed to deal with corporate farming and migrant farm workers is a crime.

    I fail to see any reason why businesses which grow crops or raise livestock should be treated any differently in law than any other type. I would agree that owners of small family businesses (let’s say less than 20 employees) should have some flexibility in employing children who are also members of their own family, but the key is that there would be two relationships: employer/employee and>/b> parent/child (or at a stretch, aunt/niece or grandparent/grandchild). This is because parents have legal and moral responsibilities to their minor children which employers do not have to their employees.

    What, in your opinion, makes farming a unique industry in which the child labor laws should diverge from those in all others?

  5. 5
    AsqJames

    Oops, should have previewed!

    The first “>” in “>/b>” should obviously be “<".

  6. 6
    hyphenman

    @ AsqJames,

    Please read the second part of my statement: That the laws have not changed to deal with corporate farming and migrant farm workers is a crime.

    Our child labor laws are antiquated, dating back to a time when the family farm was the norm.

    More importantly, if we were as concerned about the migrant (and too often here without Federal documentation) children picking our fruits and vegetables as we were about the comparatively miniscule number of children working the tobacco fields, then this would not be a problem.

    My central concern is that, since most Americans don’t smoke, we can get all righteous about picking tobacco, but we take a different attitude when farm products we want to continue buying cheaply are involved.

    Jeff

  7. 7
    augustpamplona

    hyphenman writes:

    Then there was a matter that also disturbed me. While I don’t see any explicit ties, the implication of the report is that the three minors interviewed were working for Kentucky State Senator Paul Hornback.

    Be not disturbed and listen again. Ties are explicitly disavowed. They are introduced with “And no one knows better than these three tobacco pulling scamps who’ve enjoyed working on a different tobacco farm since they were twelve.”.

  8. 8
    hyphenman

    @ augustpamplona

    Ah if only that were sufficient. The tongue-in-cheek statement, however—how else could one interpret “three tobacco-pulling scamps—would only be a classic non-denial denial.

    At least five possibilities present themselves:

    1. The scamps worked on three different farms, one, two or three of which were owned by Hornback.
    2. The scamps were never employed by Hornback and Jon Stewart is guilty of making a false association.
    3. The scamps worked for Hornback but lied about their working conditions.
    4. The scamps worked for Hornback and he lied about their working conditions.
    5. The scamps were hired actors who never cut a stalk of tobacco in their lives.

    No. 5 has an extremely low probability.
    Nos. 1 leads to either No. 3 or No. 4, the former is good for Hornback and the latter for Stewart.
    No. 2 is the most distributing because it goes to Stewart’s credibility.

    Jeff

  9. 9
    augustpamplona

    I think you are trying too hard to read something into this that isn’t there. The report is not about the senator. While the senator may very well own 359 farms, the inference a viewer is likely to reasonably make is that the farm he is being interviewed at is his one and only farm.

    Number one is not implied because the word used is clearly “farm” (singular) not “farms”. The normal inference would be is that they do not work for Hornback since after she is talking to him at his farm she unambiguously states that they work at a different farm.

    While it is possible that Hornback may own a different farm (where the three minors worked) it is hard to see how this would not be mentioned since this omission implies otherwise.

    There’s nothing disturbing to 2 because the implication that Hornback owns the second farm is never made. by the program. Such is, instead, an inference that you have drawn which normally would not be made by a viewer.

  10. 10
    hyphenman

    @ augustpamplona

    That’s true, you’re absolutely correct. The audio clearly says (at time mark 1:25) “a different farm in North Carolina.”

    So, why bring Hornback into the story? Maybe he is a model farmer who does everything just as he tells the interviewer. Why not interview Hornback’s workers? Why not interview the farmer where the scamps worked?

    My objection still holds. The presentation allows an erroneous association between Hornback and the scamps. That’s fine in comedy, which this is, after all, but the practice is bad journalism, which the report does not pretend to be. The problem is that viewers don’t always go for the laughs and ignore the facts.

    I like Jon Stewart’s targeted humor, I just think he shot too quickly and missed the mark this time.

    Jeff

  11. 11
    augustpamplona

    As far as I can tell, it’s Stewart’s typical Schtick.

    If Hornsback was not a tobacco farmer but was still defending the same position he (or someone else just like him) would probably still be there as a foil to Samantha Bee’s ironic spiel. The fact that he does run a farm which does use child labor only makes it that much better.

  12. 12
    Raging Bee

    The hypocrisy here is overwhelming.

    This is a bullshit dodge that any reactionary can use to shout down anyone who questions the status quo. At present, a lot of our food is harvested by child and/or slave labor, because we all want/need our food to be as cheap as we can get it. So anyone who questions this automatically opens themselves to the charge of “hypocricy,” because they’re still part of an economic system that uses slave labor. And the only way they can escape the charge of “hypocricy” is to never question the status quo. Is this how you want people to behave? Or would you rather we keep on fighting injustice one or two battles at at time, like we normally have no choice but to do anyway?

  13. 13
    Raging Bee

    Most Americans think tobacco is bad…

    Um, no, we don’t think that, we KNOW it. And even if we didn’t, that would not make a campaign against child-labor in the tobacco business any less justifiable.

  14. 14
    hyphenman

    @ Raging Bee

    I must have been unclear. The hypocrisy here is that we seem to want to be outraged at child labor when products we don’t purchase are involved, but we turn a blind eye when child labor (and slave labor) are involved in producing products that we must purchase such as clothing and vegetables.

    The way to escape the charge of hypocrisy is to not be a hypocrite. Accepting the status quo would be the opposite. Foregoing the financial support of child and slave labor by seeking out and paying more for products that do not involve the exploitation of the workers involved is the way to escape the charge of hypocrisy. We make important social statements when we spend our money.

    As to my use of the word “think,” I advisedly chose to pair “think” with “bad,”because I wanted to encompass more than just the scientific evidence that the components of tobacco, when directly or indirectly taken into the body, are harmful and potentially deadly. Of course most Americans know that to be true and avoid using tobacco.

    There is, however, also a social element here. Americans also think tobacco is bad in the sense that they find those who chose to use tobacco annoying, rude and otherwise objectionable for reasons other than the obvious public health component.

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