The news outlet said it learned of underage workers after the brief disappearance of a girl in Alabama. Enterprise City Police, who helped locate the girl, told Reuters that she and her two brothers had worked at SMART. The girl and her siblings were not in school, Reuters reported, and had worked at the plant earlier this year. SMART denies knowingly employing minors.
The Alabama Department of Labor is now coordinating with other agencies, including the US Department of Labor, to begin investigating the matter, a spokesperson for the state agency told The Washington Post in an email on Friday.
Alabama law prohibits minors under the age of 16 from working in a manufacturing setting, he said, adding that regardless of the entity paying the minor, the mere presence of the minor is all that is needed to establish a job. “They were at the SMART factory, they are SMART employees as far as the Alabama Child Labor Law is concerned,” said Tara Hutchison, the state spokeswoman.
The girl turns 14 this month and her brothers 12 and 15.
Federal labor officials told The Post that the agency is aware of the Reuters report but could not comment on any open investigations or pending actions.
Gary Sport, SMART’s general manager of business administration, said the company “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed someone who is not eligible for employment” under federal, state and local laws. In a statement to The Post, Sport said the company relies on temporary employment agencies to fill vacant positions and if he learns workers are not eligible for employment, they are immediately removed from the facility.
In a statement on Friday, Hyundai told The Post that it does not tolerate illegal labor practices. “We have policies and procedures that require compliance with all local, state and federal laws.”
Police in the city of Enterprise, where the girl’s family lives, have no jurisdiction in labor law cases and referred the matter to the state attorney general’s office, Reuters reported. Neither entity responded to requests for comment.
Reuters said the children’s father, Pedro Tzi, confirmed the version and that all three are now registered for the next school term.
The children were among a larger cohort of underage workers who found work at the Hyundai-owned supplier in recent years, Reuters reported, citing interviews with a dozen former and current plant employees and labor recruiters. Several of these minors, they said, have given up school to work long shifts at the plant, a sprawling facility with a documented history of health and safety violations, including amputation risks.
Hyundai is one of the most profitable automakers in the world, posting nearly $90 billion in revenue last year.
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