Hyundai supplier SMART Alabama LLC has used child labor at its facility in Luverne, Alabama, Reuters reported on Friday.
The Luverne plant manufactures stamped metal and robotic welded assemblies for three vehicles of Korea-based Hyundai — the Elantra, Sonata and Santa Fe — on behalf of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama.
SMART denies it knowingly employed any underage workers.
Alabama and federal laws prohibit minors under the age of 18 from working around dangerous machinery, while Alabama law requires children 17 and under to be enrolled in school, according to al.com.
Reuters examined reported child labor at the facility closely after a Guatemalan migrant child briefly disappeared from her home in Enterprise, Alabama, earlier this year.
In February, Eidy Aracely Tzi Coc went missing alongside fellow SMART employee and 21-year-old Guatemalan migrant Alvaro Cucul, the Daily Mail reported.
Police issued an Amber Alert following her disappearance. On the same day, Eidy was located in an Athens, Georgia, parking lot with Cucul, who later was arrested and deported.
According to the Daily Mail, Eidy told police at the time that Cucul was a friend she was traveling with to search for more work.
Since then, Reuters learned through interviews with sources and the girl’s father, Pedro Tzi, that Eidy — who turns 14 this month — that her 12- and 15-year-old brothers did not go to school earlier in 2022. Instead, they spent their time working at the SMART plant.
Enterprise Police also told Reuters that the girl and her siblings worked at the facility.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, a former SMART employee said the facility employed about 50 underage workers, who later were dismissed as Eidy’s disappearance gained publicity.
“At a time of U.S. labor shortages and supply chain disruptions, labor experts told Reuters there are heightened risks that children, especially undocumented migrants, could end up in workplaces that are hazardous and illegal for minors,” the news service report said.
Enterprise Police do not have jurisdiction to look into labor-law violations at the factory, the Daily Mail reported.
The police department, Det. James Sanders said, instead informed the state attorney general’s office following the incident, according to the Daily Mail.
“Consumers should be outraged,” David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), told 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.”
The Alabama Attorney General’s office declined Reuters’ request for comment. Meanwhile, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama said (HMMA), according to WAKA-TV:
“Hyundai does not tolerate illegal employment practices in any Hyundai entity. We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state, and federal laws,” said HMMA Vice President of Human Resources and Administration Robert Burns.
“SMART Alabama, LLC has a longstanding policy that requires compliance with all federal, state, and local laws,” SMART said, per WAKA. “SMART denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment under these laws.
“SMART finds the act of human trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable populations tragic.”
Pedro said he regretted sending his children to work, adding that he chose to do so at the time because he needed income.
“All that is over now. The kids aren’t working, and in fall they will be in school,” Pedro Tzi said, according to the Daily Mail.
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