Hyundai supplier accused of using child labour in US

Company admits that children worked at plant that makes car parts

SL Alabama said the minors had been hired by an outside labour recruitment firm, which it did not identify. AFP
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The US Department of Labour on Monday accused a Korean-owned car parts maker and supplier of Hyundai of violating federal child labour laws at an Alabama factory, federal court filings reviewed by Reuters show.

The department said that SL Alabama, a subsidiary of South Korea's SL Corp, employed underage workers at its Alexander City, Alabama, factory, filings on Monday with the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama showed.

Since last November, SL Alabama “repeatedly violated” labour regulations by “employing oppressive child labour” and “minors under the age of 16", the department said in a six-page complaint.

In a statement to Reuters, SL Alabama admitted children had worked at the plant, which makes headlights, rear lights and other components for companies including Hyundai and its Kia affiliate.

SL Alabama said the minors had been hired by an outside labour recruitment firm, which it did not identify.

The revelations come one month after Reuters reported the use of child labour at another Alabama car parts plant operated by Hyundai subsidiary Smart Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Labour at the time said it would co-ordinate with federal authorities to investigate practices at that plant.

The discovery of child workers at a second Hyundai supplier signals widening scrutiny of labour practices in the car maker's US supply chain. In an emailed statement late on Monday, Hyundai said “it 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,” it added.

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Along with the complaint against SL Alabama, a proposed settlement agreement between the government and the parts manufacturer was filed with the court.

Under the terms of that agreement, SL Alabama agreed to stop hiring minors, punish any managers aware of the use of underage employees and suspend any relationship with any recruiters who supply child workers.

The proposed agreement was signed on August 18 by lawyers from SL Alabama lawyer and the Department of Labour. It has not yet been signed by a judge.

The filings did not detail how many minors worked at SL Alabama or what type of jobs they performed. It is not clear whether the company or the labour contractors it works with face any fines or other penalties.

The Department of Labour did not respond to requests for comment.

In its statement to Reuters, SL Alabama said “we fully co-operated with the investigation by the Department of Labour and we are in the process of complementing our verification system so that minors will not work going forward”.

Both federal and Alabama law prohibit teenagers and children under the age of 16 from working in most industrial factory settings because they can be dangerous for them.

SL Alabama employs about 650 people at the Alabama facility, its website said. Parent company SL Corp also operates a factory in Tennessee and a research facility in Michigan.

Previous Reuters reporting has shown how some minors, often immigrants, can be hired for Alabama factory jobs through recruitment agencies.

Although staffing firms help fill industrial jobs nationwide, they have been criticised by labour advocates because they enable employers to outsource responsibility for vetting employees and their eligibility to work.

Updated: August 23, 2022, 2:48 PM