by John Hugh DeMastri
One month after a Reuters investigation revealed that Hyundai supplier SMART Alabama LLC was using children as young as 12 to manufacture car parts in an Alabama factory, a second Alabama supplier of the automotive giant was found to be employing children in a complaint filed by the Department of Labor.
SL Alabama, a subsidiary of South Korean SL Corporation, “repeatedly violated” the law by employing “oppressive child labor” using “minors under the age of 16” in the production of goods at its Alexander City, Alabama, plant, the Department of Labor (DOL) alleged in a filing with a federal court. While the DOL allegation does not specify the age, number or nature of these children, last month, a Reuters investigation uncovered that dozens of Guatemalan migrant children, some as young as 12, were employed at SMART Alabama’s factory in Luverne, Alabama, which supplied Hyundai with parts for its cars.
SL Alabama admitted in a statement that children had worked in its facility, claiming they were hired by an unidentified recruitment firm, according to Reuters. In contrast, SMART Alabama denied any knowledge of illegal activity both to Reuters and the Daily Caller News Foundation, saying it expects outside recruiters to follow the law.
The DOL also filed a consent judgement, a form of settlement in which the defendant admits no wrongdoing, which instructed the company to sanction its management, terminate agreements with subcontractors who contracted child laborers and implement a variety of oversight measures designed to ensure such a situation does not occur again. While the settlement does not include any mention of a fine or other damages, the potential remains for a class-action lawsuit that could see the affected children receiving compensation, Steven Azizi, head attorney and co-founder of California-based employment litigation firm Miracle Mile Law Group, told the DCNF.
“Willful violations may be prosecuted criminally and the violator fined up to $10,000,” the DOL website states regarding its ability to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act. “Violators of the child labor provisions are subject to a civil money penalty of up to $10,000 for each employee who was the subject of a violation.”
The proposed settlement agreement was signed Aug. 18 by a lawyer for SL Alabama and a lawyer for the DOL, and awaits a judge’s signature.
In February, a 14-year-old migrant girl who worked for SMART went missing, eventually being found with a 21-year-old male migrant worker in neighboring Georgia. The incident prompted an investigation by police in Enterprise, Alabama, where the girl is from, as well as the Reuters investigation.
Police say Eidy Aracely Tzi Coc, 12, and her alleged abductor, were located in Athens, Ga. She is safe. https://t.co/2wZbzRRvN8
— carol robinson (@RobinsonCarol) February 4, 2022
Hyundai “does not tolerate illegal employment practices in any Hyundai entity,” the company said in a statement to Reuters. “We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state, and federal laws.”
The same statement was given to the DCNF one month ago regarding Reuters’ investigations of SMART Alabama.
SL Alabama, Hyundai and the DOL did not immediately respond to a DCNF request for comment.
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John Hugh DeMastri is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Hyundai Manufacturing Plant in Alabama” by HyundaiAlabama. CC BY-SA 4.0.