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According to an exclusive report from Reuters, four key Alabama suppliers for Hyundai Motor and Kia Corp. used child labour.
The companies deny that they employed minors, but Reuters reports that this is not the first time these Alabama-based suppliers have been investigated for child labor practices.
Citing sources who have worked for parts maker Ajin Industrial Co., Reuters said the company employed as many as 10 minors at a factory in Cusseta, Alabama, alone. In addition, Hyundai supplier SL Alabama regularly violated child labor laws by using minors, some as young as 13. Reuters notes that there have been previous reports about SL Alabama, but the allegations about Hwashin and Ajin are new. This suggests that the problem is more significant than child protection was aware of, and that it has not been adequately dealt with.
According to employees, minors as young as 16 have worked in Alabama factories for Hyundai suppliers, welding and even operating forklifts. However, Alabama and the United States prohibit children under 16 from working in car factories, and those under 18 must not work in potentially hazardous areas.
Hyundai and Kia have implemented policies that prohibit child labor at their factories and their suppliers. Earlier allegations of child labor prompted Hyundai’s chief operating officer to say the company would immediately end business with SL and investigate all operations in Alabama, potentially ending work with outside labor agencies. The company later backtracked, indicating only that it would cut ties with sketchier staffing outfits.
Labor experts believe that pressure placed on suppliers from Hyundai and Kia to meet deadlines and avoid penalties for late delivery may have contributed to the use of shortcuts such as child labour. Delays in the delivery of parts can be costly. In addition, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on supply chains may have played a role in the proliferation of breaches.
Terri Gerstein, who directs the State and Local Enforcement Project at Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, agreed that COVID played a role, telling Reuters: “It seems like the stage was set for this to happen … Planter in remote, rural settings. areas. A region with low union density. Not enough regulatory enforcement. Use of staffing agencies.”
SL Alabama, according to Reuters, “is the only Hyundai or Kia supplier charged with violating child labor laws” to date. State and local officials discovered seven workers ages 13 to 16 working there, and the Department of Labor issued a $30,000 fine. The Alabama Department of Labor fined the company and an affiliated labor agency about $36,000.
Child labor is not the only serious problem here. Reuters says investigations are also underway into whether any children found working for Hyundai and Kia suppliers were victims of human trafficking.