Hyundai plant caught again in child labor scandal

Hyundai plant caught again in child labor scandal

  • Published on
    May 31, 2024
  • Category:
    Law & Policy, Supply Chain
Hero Banner

After a 13-year-old girl was found illegally working on an assembly line in Alabama, South Korean auto giant Hyundai Motor Co. is facing a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) lawsuit as reported by CBS News. But by holding Hyundai accountable, the case may change the state of play. It marks the first time the Labor Department has sued a major company for allegedly violating child labor law through their subcontractors and partners. At a time when the U.S. is seeing both an increase in child labor violations and a huge push across some states to roll back child labor protections, the case could make multinational manufacturing giants take notice.

Child labor violations are not new

Child labor violations in the U.S. are sadly not a new story. Accounts of exploitation and fatal injuries have been reported over the last few years from Wisconsin to Virginia and Mississippi to Minnesota. In fiscal year 2023 alone The Labor Department investigated 955 cases of child labor violations involving 5,792 kids nationwide, including 502 employed in violation of hazardous occupation standards. In this most recent case, federal investigators found a 13-year-old girl was working up to 50 to 60 hours a week on an assembly line in Luverne, Alabama, operating machines that turned sheet metal into auto body parts.

Jessica Looman, a DOL’s wage and hour division administrator, said in a statement

“A 13-year-old working on an assembly line in the United States of America shocks the conscience.”

The facility the 13-year-old was working at was subcontracted to provide parts to Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. The legal document stated that “instead of attending middle school, she worked on an assembly line making parts,” for six to seven months. And sadly, this is not Hyundai’s first rodeo. In 2022, Reuters reported that children as young as 12 were working for a Hyundai subsidiary and other parts suppliers for the company in Alabama. The recent suit claims that in addition to the 13-year-old girl, two other children were also employed at the plant.

Holding the entire labor supply chain accountable

The recently filed complaint would require Hyundai, SMART Alabama (the subcontractor involved), and Best Practice Service (the staffing agency) to relinquish any profits related to the use of child labor. The complaint is a landmark in that the Labor Department alleges that all three companies jointly employed the child and should therefore be held accountable for the violations.

Seema Nanda, solicitor of the Labor Department said in a news release:

“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 said SMART’s operations, at the time the violations were found, were “so integrated” with Hyundai’s main manufacturing plant in Montgomery that “the two companies were a single employer for purposes of liability” under U.S. labor law. Therefore, including the Best Practice staffing agency, the three companies “jointly employed” the minor and should be jointly held accountable for child labor exploitation.

The government probe and 2022 Reuters report, which revealed the widespread and illegal use of migrant child laborers at suppliers of Hyundai in Alabama, marks the first time the Labor Department has sued a major company for allegedly violating child labor law as a subcontractor along with the staffing agency. By holding the auto giant accountable, it may force other major manufacturers in the U.S. to pay closer attention to their own hiring and subcontracting partners. This could help ensure that child labor is handled safely and appropriately.

Say “NO” to child labor law rollbacks

Freedom United has been part of the effort to shine a light on the deadly consequences of lax child labor protections. The serious and fatal injuries of minors on the job include a 16-year-old who was killed after getting pulled into machinery at a sawmill and another who died after getting caught in a machine at a poultry plant. These tragedies, along with this most recent case against Hyundai, highlight the need and the urgency of acting NOW! Stand with Freedom United, add your voice, and help stop these alarming trends by saying “No” to the rollbacks of child labor law protections in the U.S.


Freedom United is interested in hearing from our community and welcomes relevant, informed comments, advice, and insights that advance the conversation around our campaigns and advocacy. We value inclusivity and respect within our community. To be approved, your comments should be civil.

stop icon A few things we do not tolerate: comments that promote discrimination, prejudice, racism, or xenophobia, as well as personal attacks or profanity. We screen submissions in order to create a space where the entire Freedom United community feels safe to express and exchange thoughtful opinions.

Notify of
1 Comment
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Plume Tarrant
Plume Tarrant
7 days ago

All those boring expensive fancy adverts on tv and they use child labour to produce their swanky products!!! Disgusting.

This week

European cocaine gangs using forced labor to exploit children

A recent investigation by The Guardian found the continent’s £10bn appetite for cocaine has led to forced child labor on an equally massive scale. Increasingly powerful drug cartels are forcing hundreds, possibly thousands, of unaccompanied child migrants to work as drug sellers on European streets. They do this to meet the growing demand for cocaine in cities including Paris and Brussels. Industrial scale exploitation The increase in refugees

| Tuesday June 11, 2024

Read more