According to an alarming report by Reuters, a Hyundai subsidiary in Alabama has been using child labor. Children as young as 12 years old have been employed at the Luverne, Alabama, plant, according to a police report. It makes components for use at its Montgomery, Alabama factory. The family of the three underage workers as well as eight former and current Hyundai factory workers confirmed the allegations.
The SMART Alabama factory makes metal-stamped parts for Hyundai. SMART is a majority-owned supplier for Hyundai. So far Hyundai has not responded to questions for comment from Reuters and other news organizations.
Hyundai denies the allegations
But SMART said in a statement that it “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment.” When shortages occur it said it used temporary work agencies. SMART says that it expects “these agencies to follow the law in recruiting, hiring, and placing workers on its premises.”
News of the alleged use of child labor was first brought to Reuters’ attention when a 13-year-old Guatemalan migrant child was reported missing from her home in Enterprise, Alabama. Besides the girl, who was quickly found, her 12- and 15-year-old brothers also worked at the stamping plant. The family’s father, Pedro Tzi, confirmed this to Reuters.
Authorities have contacted the Alabama state attorney general
Enterprise police, who found the girl, do not have investigative powers in Luverne, which is 45 miles south of the SMART plant. Because of this, the Enterprise police notified the state attorney general of the findings. The Alabama attorney general’s office did not comment on this breaking story. So it is unclear if it has investigated the allegations so far.
Current and former Hyundai employees and labor recruiters, on condition of anonymity, have confirmed that the three Tzi siblings were just a small group of children at the plant over the years. None of them were attending school. According to their father, the Tzi children are all enrolled in school for this fall.
The Hyundai plant has a history of safety violations
The plant has a long history of health and safety violations, according to Reuters. According to employment postings by Hyundai, the car manufacturer forbids child labor at every one of its factories worldwide, including its suppliers.
There has recently been ongoing unease by labor organizations because of prevalent supply chain problems. They say there is a risk that illegal minors and undocumented migrant children could be showing up in the workforce. This is especially true for “just-in-time” assembly plants.
OSHA has fined SMART in the past
Since 2013, SMART has paid almost $50,000 in OSHA safety fines. There are numerous violations for crush and amputation hazards. Federal law prohibits minors under 18 from taking jobs where metal stamping and/or pressing equipment is present.
Recently, SMART received a class-action lawsuit over its handling of U.S. worker visas. The lawsuit alleges that workers hired to be engineers were, instead, used for menial jobs at the factory. SMART says the lawsuit is baseless and meritless.