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CHILD LABOR: Hyundai subsidiary accused of hiring 12-year-olds at its Alabama plant

CHILD LABOR: Hyundai subsidiary accused of hiring 12-year-olds at its Alabama plant

CHILD LABOR: Hyundai subsidiary accused of hiring 12-year-olds at its Alabama plant

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SMART, a subsidiary of the Hyundai Motor Company, has been accused of using child labor at its Alabama plant. Located about 50 miles from the car company’s Montgomery, Alabama assembly line, SMART is alleged to have used children as young as 12 in its stamping plant.

After Reuters broke the story, Hyundai sent a statement saying it “does not tolerate illegal employment practices at any Hyundai entity. We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state, and federal laws.”

SMART also denied any wrongdoing and shifted responsibility onto the staffing agencies.

Attention was brought to the child labor law violations when a young migrant girl from Guatemala was reported missing by her family. Her father Pedro Tzi, confirmed to Reuters that his daughter – just 13 years old – and her siblings aged 12 and 15, all worked at the plant.

Neither of Tzi’s children were enrolled in school at the time – an Alabama requirement for minors under the age of 17.

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Due to the dangerous nature of plants like the one run by SMART Alabama LLC, Alabama minors younger than 16 are barred from working in a manufacturing environment.

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And though no information has been released on the number of underage minors who were illegally working at the facility, Tara Hutchison, a spokesperson for the state  said all that’s needed to establish employment is the presence of a child.

“They were at the SMART factory, they are a SMART employee as far as Alabama Child Labor Law is concerned,” said Hutchison.

Interviews with current and former employees assert that underage children did indeed work at the plant. Many work long hours at the plant instead of being in school.

SMART’s Alabama facility has been penalized for multiple and repeated health and safety violations.

And in early 2022, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of over three dozen Mexican workers who allege they were hired under false pretenses, given menial jobs at the car manufacturer, as opposed to the engineering jobs they were qualified for and promised.

39-year-old Tabatha Moultry, a former SMART employee, commented to Reuters that the plant relied on migrant labor to keep up with demand. She says that she worked with a girl who “looked 11 or 12 years old.”

“She was way too young to be working in that plant, or any plant,” Moultry added.

State regulators have opened an investigation into the accusations. The Alabama Department of Labor, along with the U.S. Labor Department, is coordinating with other agencies, according to The Washington Post.

Former U.S. assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, Dave Michaels, said, “Consumers should be outraged.” Adding, “These cars are being built, at least in part, by workers who are children and need to be in school rather than risking life and limb because their families are desperate for income”

Original reporting by Joshua Schneyer, Mica Rosenberg, and Kristina Cooke at Reuters.

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

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