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, according to Reuters.
Area police, the family of three underage workers and eight former and current employees of the plant told the news outlet that the child laborers were recently employed at a metal stamping factory operated by SMART Alabama LLC.
SMART, which is 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 about 50 underage workers between the different plant shifts and said he knew some of the minors personally.
Tabatha Moultry, 39, told the news outlet that she worked on SMART's assembly line through 2019 and said the factory had a high turnover rate and was becoming heavily reliant on migrant workers to keep up with a grueling production schedule.
Hyundai said in a statement on Friday that it "does not tolerate illegal employment practices at any Hyundai entity. We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state and federal laws."
In a separate statement, SMART said it "denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment." The company said 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."
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.
The children's father, Pedro Tzi, and police in the Tzi family's town of Enterprise confirmed that the girl and her siblings had worked at the plant.
According to Reuters, Tzi's daughter was found safe by police and she and her brothers will be attending 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) 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," he added.
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