The news source said he became aware of underage workers in Alabama after a young girl briefly disappeared. Police in the town of Enterprise, which helped find the girl, told Reuters that she and her two siblings were working at SMART. Reuters reported that her brothers and sisters did not go to school and worked at the factory earlier this year. SMART knowingly refuses to employ minors.
The Alabama Department of Labor said in an email to the Washington Post on Friday that the Alabama Department of Labor is coordinating with other agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, to begin investigating the issue.
Alabama law prohibits anyone under the age of 16 from working in a production environment, adding that the minor’s presence is all it takes to start a business, regardless of which organization pays the minor. “They were at the SMART factory, a SMART employee as far as the Alabama Child Labor Act is concerned,” state spokeswoman Tara Hutchison said.
The girl turns 14 this month, and her brothers are 12 and 15 years old.
Federal labor officials told The Post that the agency was aware of the Reuters report, but could not comment on any open investigation or pending action.
Gary Sport, SMART’s chief operating officer, said the company “denies allegations that it knowingly employed people who are not eligible for employment” under local state and federal laws. In a statement to The Post, Sport said the company relies on temporary employment agencies to fill open positions, and if workers learn that they are unsuitable for employment, they are promptly evicted from the building.
Hyundai told The Post on Friday that it does not tolerate illegal employment practices. “We have policies and procedures that require compliance with all local, state, and federal laws.”
Police in the town of Enterprise, where the girl’s family lives, have no jurisdiction in labor law cases and have referred the matter to the attorney general’s office, Reuters reported. Neither organization responded to requests for comment.
Reuters said the children’s father, Pedro Tzi, has verified the account and all three have signed up for the upcoming school term.
Citing interviews with a dozen former and current factory workers and recruiters, Reuters reported that the children are among a larger cohort of underage workers who have found employment at Hyundai’s-owned supplier over the past few years. They said many of these minors dropped out to work long shifts at the factory, a sprawling facility with a documented history of health and safety violations, including the dangers of amputation.
Hyundai is one of the world’s most profitable automakers, recording nearly $90 billion in revenue last year.
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