LUVERNE, Ala. (WKRG) — Reuters reports that SMART Alabama LLC, a Hyundai Motor Co. subsidiary that makes parts for the carmaker’s Montgomery-area assembly line, used children as young as 12 at its Luverne, Ala. plant. Reuters said they became aware of the case when a Guatemalan migrant girl living in nearby Enterprise disappeared in February.
Hyundai told WKRG News 5 that the company “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.”
Reuters reports that they spoke with family of underaged workers, current and former employees, and Enterprise police, who became involved when the girl went missing and they discovered she and her siblings were not attending school. In a statement obtained by Reuters, SMART said it “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment.” Reuters said Hyundai had not responded to phone calls or emails.
“People familiar with their employment” said that the girl, who turns 14 in July, and her two brothers, 12 and 15, worked at the plant and were not going to school. Reuters spoke with their father, Pedro Tzi, who confirmed that information. Enterprise police also told Reuters that the children had worked at the SMART plant.
Enterprise Police do not have jurisdiction in Luverne. James Sanders, an Enterprise detective, told Reuters that police notified the Alabama Attorney General’s office. WKRG News 5 also reached out to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Communications Director Mike Lewis said the office “no comment on the media reports involving SMART Alabama, LLC.”
Reuters interviewed “a dozen former and current plant employees and labor recruiters” who said that Tzi’s were three of “a larger cohort of underage workers” who worked at the plant. Reuters said the people they interviewed said the children worked long hours at the factory instead of attending school. Reuters also reports that the factory has a history of safety violations.
This child labor investigation comes as Hyundai pursues massive production expansion in the U.S., including a $5.5 billion electric vehicle plant near Savannah, Georgia, according to the Associated Press. Hyundai has recalled millions of vehicles in the last seven years due to safety issues, the AP reports.