Lawsuit against Hyundai alleges breaking of child-labor laws

June 3, 2024
A 13-year-old girl in Alabama worked 60 hours a week making car parts for Hyundai.

According to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor, a 13-year-old girl from Alabama missed school and went to work at a factory punching out sheet-metal parts for cars produced by Hyundai Motor Co.

The girl, employed at a factory in Luverne, Alabama that manufactures parts for Hyundai, was one of several underage workers toiling in violation of child labor laws, the lawsuit said. 

"A 13-year-old working on an assembly line in the United States of America shocks the conscience," said Jessica Looman, the administrator of the department's wage and hour division. "As we work to stop illegal child labor where we find it, we also continue to ensure that all employers are held accountable for violating the law."

The civil suit, filed in federal court in Montgomery, Alabama, seeks an injunction barring the company's Alabama subsidiary, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama LLC; a firm called Smart Alabama LLC, which operated the plant; and a labor-recruitment firm, Best Practice Service, from continuing to use child labor. It also seeks an order from the court for the companies to surrender any profits made from cars that were manufactured using child labor. 

"Consumers throughout the United States unknowingly purchased automobiles that were manufactured with oppressive child labor. Defendants profited by these sales, and financial transactions related to the same, and continue to retain those profits today," the suit read.

The use of child labor at the Alabama factory was first uncovered in a report by Reuters in 2022. In a statement, Hyundai said the use of child labor was "not consistent with the standards and values we hold ourselves to as a company," but that it intended to defend itself in court. 

"We worked over many months to thoroughly investigate this issue and took immediate and extensive remedial measures," the statement read. "We presented all of this information to the U.S. Department of Labor in an effort to resolve the matter, even while detailing the reasons why no legal basis existed to impose liability under the circumstances. Unfortunately, the Labor Department is seeking to apply an unprecedented legal theory that would unfairly hold Hyundai accountable for the actions of its suppliers and set a concerning precedent for other automotive companies and manufacturers. We are reviewing the new lawsuit and intend to vigorously defend the company."

Representatives for Smart Alabama, which until last year was a subsidiary of Hyundai, and for Best Practice Service, couldn't immediately be reached.

Last year, in a letter to shareholders announcing that the company would be divesting its interest in Smart Alabama, Hyundai President Jay Chang said Hyundai had been misled by the company that provided the laborers, but that it still took responsibility. 

"The use of underage labor at a supplier or any operation is unacceptable and we are committed to making sure noncompliance never happens again. This is a zero-tolerance issue," Chang wrote. "Even though there were issues with third-party staffing agencies that provided false documentation to these suppliers, ultimately, the responsibility is with Hyundai to make sure all our suppliers understand and meet our high global workforce standards."

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