Hyundai subsidiary under investigation for allegedly using child labor



State regulators opened an investigation on Friday following reports that a Hyundai subsidiary in Alabama used child labor at its metal stamping plant.

In some cases, Reuters reported on Friday, children as young as 12 have been put to work at the SMART Alabama plant in Luverne, which supplies parts for the South Korean automaker’s flagship U.S. assembly plant in Montgomery, nearby.

The outlet said it learned of underage workers following the brief disappearance of a young girl in Alabama. Enterprise City police, who helped locate the girl, told Reuters she and her two siblings had worked at SMART. The girl and her brothers were out of school, Reuters reported, and had worked at the factory earlier this year. SMART denies knowingly employing minors.

The Alabama Department of Labor is now coordinating with other agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, to begin investigating the case, a spokesperson for the state agency told The Washington Post on Friday. in an email.

Alabama law prohibits minors under the age of 16 from working in a manufacturing environment, she said, adding that regardless of the entity paying the minor, the mere presence of the minor is everything. what is necessary to establish a job. “They were at the SMART plant, they are a SMART employee as far as Alabama child labor law is concerned,” said state spokeswoman Tara Hutchison.

The girl is 14 this month and her brothers are 12 and 15.

Federal labor officials told the Post that the agency was aware of the Reuters report but could not comment on any open investigations or ongoing actions.

Gary Sport, managing director of business administration at SMART, said the company “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone ineligible for employment” under local and federal laws. In a statement to The Post, Sport said the company relies on temp agencies to fill vacancies and if it learns workers are not eligible for employment, they are immediately evicted from the premises. .

In a statement Friday, Hyundai told the Post that it does not condone illegal employment practices. “We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state and federal laws.”

Police in the town of Enterprise, where the girl’s family lives, have no jurisdiction over labor law cases and have referred the case to the state attorney general’s office, Reuters reported. Neither entity responded to requests for comment.

Reuters said the children’s father, Pedro Tzi, had confirmed the account and all three were now enrolled for the next school term.

The children were part of a larger cohort of underage workers who found employment with the Hyundai-owned supplier in recent years, Reuters reported, citing interviews with a dozen former and current factory workers and labor recruiters. Several of those miners, they said, gave up school to work long hours at the factory, a sprawling facility with a documented history of health and safety violations, including amputation risks. .

Hyundai is one of the most profitable automakers in the world, recording nearly $90 billion in revenue last year.

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