Chipotle’s Concerning Pattern: Child Labour Law Abuse

Chipotle’s Concerning Pattern: Child Labour Law Abuse
Courtesy: The Student Life

For the third time in three years, renowned Mexican food chain Chipotle has settled another lawsuit in relation to child labour law violations in the United States. The latest accusation comes from Washington D.C. as Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb has highlighted over 800 violations in the past three years. 


Schwalb’s office found that since April 2020, the chain violated multiple child protective laws. Chipotle employees under the age of 18 were working longer than 8 hours a day, over 48 hours in a week, more than six consecutive work days in one week and were forced to work beyond 10pm. 


Despite a settlement totalling $332 400, Chipotle continues to deny “the District’s allegations regarding violations of any child labour laws”. Further they have publicly stated that they are “committed to ensuring that our restaurants are in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations and we believe that in hiring workers beginning at age 16, we can provide younger employees with valuable experiences”. 


In a interview with ABC News, Chipotle Mexican Grill Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Laurie Schalow claimed that “we have reached a settlement with the Washington D.C Office of the Attorney General for the events dating back to 2020, and have implemented an enhanced labour scheduling program in our restaurants, creating a more efficient, consistent and compliant environment”.


Though spokespeople for the chain have come out publicly to illustrate attempts at progression to a more compliant position, it does not adequately address the companies repeated history of child exploitation in the U.S. In Massachusetts in 2020, Chipotle was forced to pay $1.4 million USD after state authorities estimated that over 13 000 violations of child labour laws had occurred between 2015 and 2019. In six of fifty locations, authorities found that children were abused through unfair labour practices, working more than 9 hours a day, and 48 hours a week. In New Jersey in 2022, the Department of Labour and Workforce Development relayed a 2020 audit that revealed 30 660 alleged violations across the state between 2017 and 2020. Similarly to Massachusetts, and presently, Washington D.C, the findings indicated that minors were consistently exploited. Revealing that children were working well beyond required hours and denied food breaks, the chain professed a renewed commitment to safeguarding children. However, they have consistently found themselves embroiled in allegations since then. 


The rhetorical realities of Chipotle’s statements indicate that abusing children, using them for various work tasks beyond legal hours and then paying the related fines is more profitable than complying with labour laws. 


Companies such as Chipotle, continue to relay public facing disgust at allegations, but remain reluctant to acknowledge the nature of child exploitation within the company. The pattern of persistent abuses raises questions about the organisation’s commitment to fair and ethical labour practices. It emphasises the need for a thorough and comprehensive review of the company’s employment policies, oversight mechanisms, and enforcement procedures to ensure that the rights and well-being of all employees, particularly child. 


impACT therefore, calls on the chain to take immediate and meaningful steps, beyond merely rhetorical public responses, to the repeated violations involving children within their businesses. Firstly, they must actually hold themselves accountable for their actions. Secondly, they must implement concrete measures to prevent future issues and show actual progression. 


Whilst, certainly, the responsibility lies with Chipotle, it is important to recognise that penalties are also inadequate. The punishments for illegal use of child labour should be more financially severe. Economic rationale and the historical actions of Chipotle indicate that the business benefits off of child labour, and is largely unharmed by the repercussions. US authorities must increase penalties if they are truly serious about eradicating illegal child labour. 


impACT implores both Chipotle and US State Authorities to do more to protect children. 


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