The Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits, a group of more than 20 Alabama-based community activist groups, released an open letter on Thursday to Hyundai Motor of North America demanding that the company stop using child labor and enter into negotiations for a community benefits agreement.
In late July, revelations that a Crenshaw County metal stamping plant owned by Hyundai that supplies automotive parts to the Montgomery Hyundai plant employed several underage workers as young as 12 at the facility were released in an article from Reuters. The U.S Department of Labor is continuing an investigation into the alleged use of child labor by SMART Alabama, LLC, the Luverne-based metal stamping plant owned by Hyundai, with allegations from Reuters that the plant had employed as many as 50 underage workers.
“When our state incentivizes employers to locate here, Alabamians have a right to expect a high level of accountability and transparency,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said in a statement released on Friday. “Alabama has given up tax dollars to help support the Hyundai manufacturing plant and suppliers. We are asking for more accountability for all employers who receive subsidies and profit from state investments.”
A second plant located in Tallapoosa County has come under the eye of the U.S. Department of Labor in the time since the initial reports on the Luverne plant. SL Alabama, a supplier for Hyundai located in Alexander City, is accused in a lawsuit filed by the U.S Department of Labor in late August to have violated child labor laws since late November of 2021 and employing children under 16 years old, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
“These allegations of child labor at multiple Hyundai subsidiaries suggest a potentially systemic problem with labor practices across the company’s U.S. supply chain,” United Auto Workers President Ray Curry said in a statement released on Friday. “Accordingly, we urge the Biden Administration to use all available tools – administrative, criminal and civil – to investigate the alleged abuses and hold the company, its subsidiaries and suppliers, and any third-party labor recruitment firms accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
Hyundai remains one of the largest employers in the surrounding area of greater Montgomery, in an area with an above-average level of poverty among Black and Latino people. Carmen Paschal, a production worker at the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery, said in a statement released on Friday that individuals within the community welcomed Hyundai, which began production in 2005, but that the company needs to take steps to prevent further exploitation of its workers.
“The working people of Alabama welcomed Hyundai into our community with open arms and generous financial support, with the expectation that the company would be a good corporate community partner,” Paschal said in her statement Friday. “The company needs to take responsibility, take action to prevent this kind of terrible exploitation and ensure that Hyundai provides quality jobs and workplace rights across its supply chain. We deserve nothing less.”