In 2022 America, How Does A Major Factory Employ Child Laborers?

By Pamela Glass | Saturday, 30 July 2022 16:45
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According to Reuters, child laborers, some as young as 12 have recently worked at a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. that supplies parts for the Korean carmaker's assembly line in Montgomery, Alabama.

Area police, the family of three underage workers and eight former and present employees of the plant told the news outlet that the child laborers were recently employed at a metal stamping factory run by SMART Alabama LLC.

SMART, listed in Hyundai corporate filings as a majority-owned unit, supplies parts for some of the automaker's most popular cars and SUVs in Montgomery, where Hyundai's flagship U.S. assembly plant is located.

An adult migrant who left SMART for another auto industry job last year told Reuters there were roughly 50 underage workers between the different plant shifts and announced he knew some of the minors personally.

Tabatha Moultry, 39, explained to the news outlet that she worked on SMART's assembly line through 2019 and said the factory had a high turnover rate and was relying heavily on migrant workers to keep up with a grueling production schedule.

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Hyundai announced in a statement on Friday that it "does not tolerate illegal employment practices at any Hyundai entity. We have policies and procedures that require compliance with all local, state and federal laws."

In a separate statement, SMART stated it "denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone ineligible for employment." The company announced it uses temporary employment agencies to fill jobs and expects "these agencies to follow the law in recruiting, hiring, and placing workers on its premises."

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Reuters found out about the underage employees at the Hyundai-owned supplier after the February disappearance of a 13-year-old Guatemalan migrant girl from her family's home in Alabama.

The girl and her 12- and 15-year-old brothers all worked at the SMART plant earlier this year and were not enrolled in school, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

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The children's father, Pedro Tzi, and police in the Tzi family's town of Enterprise assured that the girl and her siblings had worked at the plant.

According to Reuters, Tzi's daughter was discovered safe by police and she and her brothers will attend school in the fall. They were among a larger group of child laborers who found work at the Hyundai-owned supplier in the past few years. "Consumers should be outraged," David Michaels, the former U.S. assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), explained Reuters. "They should know that 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," he continued.

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Alabama and federal laws limit minors under age 18 from working in metal stamping and urging operations like SMART, where proximity to dangerous machinery can put them at risk. Alabama law further asks children 17 and under to be enrolled in school. Michaels, who is now a professor at George Washington University, announced safety at U.S.-based Hyundai suppliers was a recurrent concern at OSHA throughout his eight years leading the agency until he left in 2017. Michaels visited Korea in 2015, and announced he cautioned Hyundai executives that its heavy demand for "just-in-time" parts was causing safety lapses.

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The SMART plant builds parts for the popular Elantra, Sonata, and Santa Fe models, vehicles that through June accounted for nearly 37% of Hyundai's U.S. sales, according to the carmaker. The factory has received repeated OSHA penalties for health and safety violations, federal records show.

A Reuters review of the records reveals SMART has been assessed with no less than $48,515 in OSHA penalties since 2013, and was most recently fined this year. OSHA inspections at SMART have documented violations including crush and amputation hazards at the factory.

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