According to the FBI, a 13-year-old girl worked at the Hyundai plant in Alabama

The U.S. Department of Labor is suing South Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor Co., an auto parts factory and recruiting firm, after finding a 13-year-old girl working illegally on an Alabama assembly line.

The agency filed a complaint Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama seeking to require Hyundai, SMART Alabama, an auto parts company, and Best Practice Service, a staffing agency, to forfeit all profits related to the use of child labor. In the complaint, the Department of Labor alleged that all three companies jointly employed the child.

The move comes after federal investigators found a 13-year-old girl working 50 to 60 hours a week on an assembly line in Luverne, Alabama, where she operates machines that turn sheet metal into auto parts, the Department of Labor said. The child worked at the facility for a period of six to seven months, and “instead of attending high school, she worked on an assembly line making parts,” the legal document said.

“A 13-year-old working on an assembly line in the United States of America shocks the conscience,” Jessica Looman, DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator, said in a statement.

The Korean automaker is liable, according to the ministry, for repeated child labor violations at SMART Alabama, one of its subsidiaries, between July 11, 2021 and February 1, 2022. The child was allegedly sent to work by Best Practice to the parts supplier, the report said.

According to the complaint, SMART told the staffing agency that “two additional employees were not welcome at the facility due to their appearance and other physical characteristics, which indicated they were also minors.”

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“Companies cannot avoid liability by blaming suppliers or employment agencies for child labor violations, when in fact they are employers themselves,” Seema Nanda, an attorney for the Labor Department, said in a news release.

In a statement, Hyundai said it is enforcing U.S. labor laws and expressed disappointment that the Labor Department had filed a complaint.

“The use of child labor and violation of any labor law is inconsistent with the standards and values ​​we adhere to as a company,” Hyundai said in a statement. “We have worked for many months to thoroughly investigate this issue and have taken immediate and comprehensive remedial action. We presented all of this information to the U.S. Department of Labor in an effort to resolve the matter, even as we explained the reasons why there was no legal basis to resolve this issue. impose liability under the circumstances.”

“Unfortunately, the Labor Department is attempting to implement an unprecedented legal theory that would unfairly hold Hyundai responsible for the actions of its suppliers and set a troubling precedent for other automotive companies and manufacturers,” the company added.

Hyundai said its suppliers immediately terminated their relationships with the staffing agencies named in the complaint, investigated their U.S. supplier network and imposed stricter workplace standards. In addition, the company says it now requires its Alabama suppliers to conduct independently verified audits of their operations to ensure they comply with labor laws.

The case marks the first time the Department of Labor has sued a major company for allegedly violating child labor laws at a subcontractor, and follows a government investigation and a separate Reuters report that found widespread and illegal use of migrant child laborers at suppliers of Hyundai in Alabama. .

Reuters reported in 2022 that children as young as 12 were working for a Hyundai subsidiary and other parts suppliers for the company in the southern state.

The telephone service reported on underage employees at Smart after the brief disappearance in February 2022 of a Guatemalan migrant child from her family’s home in Alabama. The 13-year-old girl and two brothers, 12 and 15, worked at the factory in 2022 and were not attending school, sources told Reuters at the time.

The Ministry of Labor investigated 955 child labor cases involving 5,792 children across the country in fiscal year 2023, including 502 who worked in violation of hazardous occupation standards.

Some minors have suffered serious and fatal injuries on the job, including 16-year-old Michael Schuls, who died after pulled into machines last summer at a sawmill in Wisconsin. Another 16-year-old worker also died last summer got stuck in a machine at a poultry plant in Mississippi.

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