SMART Alabama LLC, a subsidiary of Hyundai, has for several years used migrant child laborers as young as 12 years old in its factory in Alabama to manufacture car parts, according to a report by Reuters.
The plant reportedly employed as many as 50 underage workers across various shifts at the plant, according to one adult migrant worker who worked for the plant until last year that spoke anonymously to Reuters. Another anonymous source, an adult U.S. citizen, claims she worked alongside about a dozen minors during her shift before she also left the plant last year, Reuters reports.
After a Guatemalan migrant child went missing in February, police from Enterprise, Alabama, learned that the child worked in the Luverne factory, according to Reuters. The child, who lived in Enterprise and turns 14 this month, was eventually found almost 300 miles away in Athens, Georgia, with another SMART migrant worker, Alvaro Cucul, 21, who was eventually deported, according to Reuters.
The girl’s father confirmed to Reuters that she worked alongside her brothers, aged 12 and 15. Interviews with over a dozen anonymous former employees confirm that most underage workers did not attend schooling, according to Reuters.
After the incident, which generated significant local news coverage, SMART reportedly dismissed the majority of its underage laborers for fear of a police crackdown, according to former employees and familiar locals, Reuters reported.
SMART said it “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment,” and that it relies on staffing agencies to fill positions, in a statement to Reuters. In that same statement, SMART claimed that it expects “these agencies to follow the law in recruiting, hiring, and placing workers on its premises,” Reuters reported.
The SMART Alabama plant has been fined $48,515 in OSHA penalties since 2013, including for crush and amputation hazards, according to Reuters. The plant’s general manager wrote to a U.S. consular official in a 2020 letter that the plant was “severely lacking in labor” when seeking a visa for a Mexican worker, according to Reuters.
Neither Hyundai, Smart Alabama LLC nor Enterprise police responded immediately to a request for comment.
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