Hyundai subsidiary in Alabama focuses on child labor investigation

Suspension

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

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

The news agency said it learned of the existence of underage workers after the brief disappearance of a young girl in Alabama. Police in the town of Enterprise, who helped locate the girl, told Reuters that she and her two brothers worked at Smart. Reuters reported that the girl and her siblings did not go to school and 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 an investigation into the matter, a spokesperson for the state agency told the Washington Post in an email Friday.

Alabama law prohibits minors under the age of 16 from working in an industrial setting, she said, adding that regardless of the entity that pays the minor, the minor’s presence alone is all that is required to establish a business. “They were at the SMART factory, and they are SMART employees in connection with the Alabama child labor law,” said Tara Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the state.

The girl turns 14 this month, and her two brothers are 12 and 15.

Federal labor officials told The Post that the agency is aware of the Reuters report but cannot comment on any open investigation or pending action.

Gary Sport, SMART’s general manager of business, said the company “dismisses any allegation that it knowingly hired anyone who was unfit to employ” under state and local federal laws. In a statement to The Post, Sport said the company relies on temporary staffing agencies to fill vacancies, and if it learns workers are not qualified to hire, they will be immediately removed from the building.

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

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

Reuters said the children’s father, Pedro Tze, confirmed the account and that all three are now enrolled in the upcoming semester.

Reuters reported, citing interviews with dozens of former and current employees of the plant and labor recruitment firms, that children were among a larger group of underage workers who found jobs at the Hyundai-owned supplier over the past few years. They said that many of these minors have dropped out of school to work long shifts at the factory, a sprawling facility with a documented history of health and safety violations, including the risk of amputation.

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

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