National Consumers League

Worker Rights

Worker Rights

Mourning two decades of Congressional inaction on traveling sales crews

attention open in a new window

Two decades ago, in 1987, a Congressional investigation of the magazine sales industry uncovered a track record of abuse, fraud, and indentured servitude involving its often teenage or young adult salespersons. Nothing came of it.

As a recent New York Times piece points out: “More than two decades after a Senate investigation revealed widespread problems with these itinerant sellers, and despite several highly publicized fatal accidents and violent crimes involving the sales crews in recent years, the industry remains almost entirely unregulated. And while the industry says it has changed, advocates, and law enforcement officials say the abuses persist.”

The abuses do persist, and the National Consumers League and other members of the Child Labor Coalition are encouraged by the attention given due to the NY Times piece but remain discouraged by a lack of action by Congress to improve the desperate situation.

Why hasn’t Congress acted? advocates ask. Legislation introduced year after year to address this problem has been received with disinterest.

In the 20 years since the Congressional investigation of the magazine sales industry, the Young American Workers Bill of Rights (in 2003 renamed as Youth Worker Protection Act) has been introduced in Congress nine times (in Congresses 101-109).  The lead sponsor Rep. Tom Lantos (D_CA) of the bill, Lantos revised the nation’s child labor laws to include a prohibition on minors under the age of 16 from working in door-to-door sales.  This bill has never made it to the floor for a vote.

In both 1999 and 2001, the Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act was introduced in Congresses 106 and 107.  The lead sponsor is Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI). This bill would regulate the industry, close loopholes, and better protect salespersons in door-to-door sales. This bill has never made it to the floor for a vote.

For more information about the Child Labor Coalition’s fight against traveling sales crews and other abusive forms of child labor, both overseas and at home in the United States, visit