A Hyundai supplier is under investigation for employing children as young as 12 to work in its plant in Luverne, following a report by Reuters published on Friday.
SMART Alabama, a metal stamping plant which provides various parts for production at Hyundai’s plant in Montgomery, denied in a statement issued Friday that it “knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment.”
However, the Reuters story noted that the original report of the underage workers came from Enterprise Police, who reported the matter to the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Enterprise police officers stumbled upon the information in February after they successfully located a missing 13-year-old immigrant girl who resided in town.
The girl, who is now 14, and her 12-year-old and 15-year-old siblings, all worked at the plant, according to Enterprise PD, the children’s father and at least a dozen SMART workers interviewed by Reuters.
The children and their father, along with the workers, said other minors also worked at the plant.
An Enterprise PD spokesman said the department, which lacked authority to investigate the underage workers claims, contacted the Alabama AG’s office and passed along the information. The AG’s office declined to comment on the matter to Reuters or any other media outlet, nor would it say if it passed the information along to other enforcement agencies.
Following the Reuters report Friday, by that afternoon the Alabama Department of Labor told the Washington Post that it was investigating SMART and cooperating with other agencies as part of that investigation.
Hyundai denied any knowledge of the practice and said “it does not tolerate illegal employment practices at any Hyundai entity. We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state and federal laws.”
Both Hyundai and SMART declined to answer detailed questions from Reuters and other media outlets, including APR, about the report.
Hyundai’s decision to make Montgomery its American headquarters has long been touted as one of the biggest economic development wins for Alabama. The car manufacturer, which has experienced increasing success over the past decade, has been a good corporate partner for Alabama, and particularly for the Montgomery area.
But at the same time, there have long been grumblings among workers throughout the area about the poor treatment and unethical practices used by temporary work agencies that are contracted by Hyundai and its many suppliers.
In a statement issued to Reuters, SMART blamed those agencies for any issues, saying it expects them to “follow the law.”