June 23, 2024

Hyundai Motor Co. is facing renewed accusations that it benefited from illegal child labor in Alabama, where it operates a manufacturing plant.

The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday sued the South Korean auto giant, staffing agency Best Practice Service, and supplier ITAC Alabama over the employment of children under the age of 14. The lawsuit, filed in the Middle District of Alabama, alleges that the defendants repeatedly violated regulations prohibiting “oppressive child labor” between July 2021 and February 2022.

The staffing agency was aware that at least one employee under the age of 14 was employed on an assembly line at an ITAC facility in Laverne, per the complaint. That child allegedly worked for up to 60 hours per week alongside machines forming metal sheets for car bodies. ITAC, formerly known as SMART Alabama, is thought to have employed two additional employees who were minors, the lawsuit says.

Nearly all of the component parts made by ITAC were shipped to Hyundai’s Montgomery factory, with the Labor Department noting that the supplier “existed at [Hyundai’s] discretion” to provide it with necessary parts. Through the supplier, Hyundai effectively indirectly controlled and supervised the underaged employees, according to the lawsuit.

“The Department of Labor’s complaint seeks to hold all three employers accountable in the supply chain,” Seema Nanda, the U.S. solicitor of labor, said in a statement. “Companies cannot escape liability by blaming suppliers or staffing companies for child labor violations when they are in fact also employers themselves.”

The Labor Department is seeking an order requiring each of the companies to surrender any profits related to the use of child labor, including what was earned from selling vehicles made with parts from ITAC’s facility.

In December 2022, Reuters reported that at least four major suppliers for Hyundai and sister-brand Kia Corp. employed child labor in Alabama in recent years, including ITAC’s Laverne facility. Earlier that year, the Labor Department accused Hyundai supplier SL Alabama of employing underaged workers in its facility in Alexander City, Alabama. Hyundai at the time told Reuters that “it does not tolerate illegal employment practices in any Hyundai entity.”

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