13-year-old girl employed at Hyundai plant in Alabama, according to federal authorities

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against Hyundai Motor Co., a South Korean auto giant, as well as an auto parts plant and a recruiting company. This legal action follows the discovery of a 13-year-old girl who was found to be working illegally on an assembly line in Alabama.

The Labor Department filed a complaint on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, seeking to compel Hyundai, SMART Alabama (an auto parts company), and Best Practice Service (a staffing agency) to give up any profits gained from the use of child labor. According to the complaint, the Labor Department claimed that all three companies were involved in employing the child.

The Labor Department has taken action following the discovery of a 13-year-old girl working long hours on a SMART assembly line in Luverne, Alabama. Federal investigators found that she was operating machines that transformed sheet metal into auto body parts, working up to 50 to 60 hours per week. The facility where she worked supplies parts to Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. According to the legal document, the child spent six to seven months working on the assembly line instead of attending middle school.

Jessica Looman, the administrator of the DOL’s wage and hour division, expressed her shock at the sight of a 13-year-old working on an assembly line in the United States of America.

The Department has found that the Korean automaker, Hyundai, is responsible for multiple instances of child labor violations at its subsidiary, SMART Alabama, from July 11, 2021, to Feb. 1, 2022. It has been alleged that the child was sent to work at the component parts provider by Best Practice.

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SMART, as per the complaint, informed the staffing firm that they did not want two employees to return to the facility due to their appearance and other physical traits which indicated that they might be underage.

According to the Labor Department, companies cannot avoid responsibility for child labor violations by shifting the blame onto suppliers or staffing companies. Seema Nanda, the solicitor of the Labor Department, emphasized that these companies are also considered employers and cannot escape liability. This statement was made in a news release.

Hyundai expressed disappointment with the Labor Department’s decision to file a complaint, stating that it adheres to U.S. labor law.

Hyundai emphasized its commitment to upholding high standards and values as a company, stating that the use of child labor and any violation of labor laws is not in line with their principles. They conducted a thorough investigation into the issue over several months and promptly implemented extensive corrective actions. In their efforts to address the matter, Hyundai presented all relevant information to the U.S. Department of Labor, explaining why there was no legal basis to impose liability in this particular situation.

Hyundai expressed its concern about the Labor Department’s attempt to hold the company responsible for the actions of its suppliers, stating that this legal theory is unprecedented and unfair. The company believes that if this precedent is set, it could have negative implications for other automotive companies and manufacturers as well.

Hyundai took immediate action by terminating its partnerships with the staffing agencies mentioned in the complaint. They also conducted a thorough review of their U.S. supplier network and implemented stricter workplace standards. Furthermore, Hyundai now mandates that its suppliers in Alabama undergo independently verified audits to ensure compliance with labor laws.

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This is the first instance where the Labor Department has filed a lawsuit against a prominent company for purportedly breaching child labor laws through a subcontractor. The lawsuit comes as a result of a government investigation and a separate Reuters report that exposed the extensive and unlawful employment of migrant child laborers by Hyundai’s suppliers in Alabama.

According to a 2022 Reuters report, children as young as 12 were found to be employed by a Hyundai subsidiary and other parts suppliers in the Southern state.

According to the wire service, Reuters, there was a report about underage workers at Smart following the sudden disappearance of a Guatemalan migrant child from her family’s home in Alabama in February 2022. Sources revealed that the girl, who was 13 years old, along with her two brothers aged 12 and 15, were employed at the plant during that year and were not attending school.

In fiscal 2023, the Labor Department conducted investigations into a total of 955 cases involving child labor violations. These violations affected a total of 5,792 children across the nation, with 502 of them being employed in violation of hazardous occupation standards.

Last summer, tragedy struck when 16-year-old Michael Schuls lost his life in a horrific accident at a Wisconsin sawmill. He was tragically pulled into the machinery, resulting in fatal injuries. Sadly, he was not the only young worker to face such a fate that summer. Another 16-year-old worker lost their life after being caught in a machine at a poultry plant in Mississippi. These devastating incidents serve as a stark reminder of the dangers that minors can face while on the job.

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