There are places where the use of child labor is commonplace, even in factories rife with potential danger, but typically not in the U.S., where child labor laws have existed for many years.
But a recent exclusive report published by Reuters accuses a major automaker’s subsidiary of flouting these laws by employing children as young as 12 years old right here on U.S. soil.
A majority-owned unit of Hyundai Motor Company called SMART Alabama LLC sits near the company’s flagship production facility in Montgomery and produces stamped metal parts and assemblies.
According to the Reuters report, local authorities learned of the plant’s practice of employing underage workers after a Guatemalan migrant child went briefly missing in February. It was later discovered that the girl, who was 13 at the time, had been working at SMART along with her 12- and 15-year-old brothers.
Reuters says the siblings were “among a larger cohort of underage workers who found jobs at the Hyundai-owned supplier over the past few years” and cites interviews with “a dozen former and current plant employees and labor recruiters.”
The report adds that the facility has a history of safety violations and amputation hazards and that many of these child workers were forgoing school to work long shifts.
SMART provided a statement to Reuters, in which it denies allegations that it "knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment."
In a separate statement, Hyundai said it "does not tolerate illegal employment practices at any Hyundai entity.” Reuters sources confirmed that many of the minors were hired through recruitment agencies with one former worker claiming there were about 50 underage workers across different shifts when he worked there.
The nearby police force who had initially uncovered the underage workers doesn’t have jurisdiction to investigate labor law violations and has reportedly alerted the state attorney general's office.
Reuters adds that federal and state law prohibits those under the age of 18 to work in metal stamping and pressing plants and Alabama state law also requires children 17 and under to attend school.
The news agency shared their report with David Michaels, the former U.S. assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, who responded, "Consumers should be outraged.”