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Feds Sue Hyundai for Allegedly Working 13-Year-Old Up to 60 Hours a Week

The new lawsuit claims the child worked at an Alabama stamping facility for months, right alongside adults.
Hyundai

Some steep allegations have surfaced against Hyundai via a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Labor. You may recall that SMART Alabama, a now-former subsidiary of the car company, hired kids as young as 12 to work in its Luverne, Alabama, stamping plant. Reuters broke the news, and, unfortunately, as the investigations dug deeper, the findings grew darker.

First, some background. A dozen facilities in Alabama operated by two subsidiaries, SMART Alabama and SL Hyundai, were found to employ dozens of underage workers. They weren’t hidden from sight either but instead worked their shifts alongside adult employees, many times in conditions dangerous for any person. Some of the supplier facilities that produced parts for Hyundai and Kia vehicles had a history of health and safety violations as well as amputation hazards.

Hyundai

Hyundai blamed third-party staffing agencies for either not properly vetting employees or outright hiring children illegally, usually migrant minors. The automaker eventually cut ties with SMART Alabama and appointed an independent auditor to keep tabs on SL Hyundai. And Hyundai’s self-punishment was worse than what the U.S. Department of Labor handed down: a $30,000 fine for the violations. Yes, total.

The new complaint brings more unjust labor practices to the surface. According to CNN, a 13-year-old worked at an Alabama assembly line for up to 60 hours a week. This should’ve been 60 hours of school, playtime, and sleep. Mostly playtime and maybe some chores, but not building car parts in a factory.

“A 13-year-old working on an assembly line in the United States of America shocks the conscience,” Wage and Hour Division Administrator Jessica Looman said in a statement. “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 department alleges the child worked on sheet metal stamping from July 11, 2021, through February 1, 2022. Per the CNN report, Hyundai, SMART Alabama, and Best Practice, a staffing agency, were named in the federal suit for “violating child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Hyundai

In a statement provided to CNN, the automaker said it intends to “vigorously defend the company.” Hyundai reiterated its cooperation with the Department of Labor’s investigation but feigned responsibility for employing the 13-year-old. 

“After we learned of the alleged supplier violations, we took immediate actions,” said the automaker. “At our request, the suppliers involved terminated their relationships with the third-party staffing agencies even though those agencies had certified that they had screened and cleared individuals as being of legal age.”

CNN has been unable to reach Best Practice, while SMART Alabama declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Filed in Alabama federal court, the department is requesting an order that the companies cease future child labor as well as release any profits made related to the use of child labor. The automaker enjoyed record-breaking sales for a third consecutive year in 2023, and Kia also reported record sales last year.