Hannah Dreier of The New York Times has won the March Sidney Award for exposing a nationwide shadow workforce of child laborers.
Dreier found kids as young as 12 working for major national brands including Whole Foods, Walmart, J. Crew and Frito-Lay, as well as in slaughterhouses, on roofing crews, and in sawmills.
Over the course of her 10-month investigation, Dreier spoke to over 100 child laborers across 20 states. This shadow workforce consists primarily of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America who crossed the border by themselves. Child labor became more prevalent in the U.S. in 2021 as the systems designed to protect them broke down.
At least 280,000 kids have been released into the U.S. from federal immigration custody in the last four years. The federal government is responsible for protecting them from exploitation. Unfortunately, in its efforts to move young people out of immigration detention more quickly, the government is placing kids with poorly-screened foster parents. From there, staffing agencies are offering up underage recruits to major corporations.
“Dreier’s reporting had immediate national impact,” said Sidney judge Lindsay Beyerstein in a statement. “Days after the story ran, the Biden administration announced a crackdown on child labor and members of Congress are now proposing new legislation to address the crisis.”