Child labor in Alabama’s Hyundai supply plants

In July 2022, Reuters published a horrifying revelation regarding SMART Alabama LLC, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. The company had been facing labor shortages, struggling to overcome a lack of workers and low retention rates. Their solution? Child labor.

The company’s premiere plant in Luverne, Alabama, has been using children as young as twelve years old as workers on their assembly line. These assembly lines are notoriously dangerous and have been subjected to tens of thousands of dollars in OSHA fines for amputation hazards over the past few years. This did not stop Hyundai’s subsidiary from seeing children as fit to work in these conditions.

The use of children in the plant was uncovered after the brief disappearance of a 14-year-old Guatemalan migrant, who was later revealed to have been working at the plant alongside her 12- and 15-year-old brothers. Laborers at the factory and community members confirmed that the Hyundai-owned plant has employed a large force of child labor through the years. Few of these children attend school and are instead made to work long and brutal shifts assembling car parts for a multi-billion-dollar corporation.

The release of the investigative report in July set off labor investigation of multiple plants in Alabama. In August, labor department officials conducted a raid of SMART LLC and found children working the floor. The child workers were removed from the premises during the raid.

Since these initial revelations came to light, Reuters has confirmed the usage of child labor in at least four major suppliers of Hyundai and Kia in Alabama. This directly contradicts initial company claims that this was an accidental, isolated incident. Hyundai continues to shift the blame onto third-party recruiters. The facts are clear: These were intentional, conscious decisions based on the greed of the capitalist owners.

Without any doubt, Hyundai would have continued its practice of employing children had it not been for the findings of the investigation. In recent months, the company has carried out independent audits of its facilities only to reconstruct its public image.

Hyundai officials have been in discussions with the Department of Labor. Last week, they reported that Hyundai is cutting ties with staffing companies and plans to implement a tipping line. What consequences has Hyundai faced for its egregious crime? A mere $35,000 in fines. A slap on the wrist is all that billionaires get under the capitalist system for breaking the law.

The broader problem

This is not an isolated trend. Child labor — much of which consists of impoverished and unprotected immigrants — has been acknowledged to be on the rise by the U.S. Department of Labor. Although child labor was outlawed in the United States in 1938 following a courageous struggle from the American labor movement, the ruling class will never pass on an opportunity to squeeze profits out of the most vulnerable members of our society.

This shameless exploitation has horrendous effects on children: developmental damage, a lack of schooling, injury, and in some cases, death. In May 2022, a 16-year-old boy died working for Stover and Sons Contractors Inc. in Nashville, Tenn.. The boy reportedly worked more than 40 hours a week and was illegally assigned to hazardous work conditions on a roof, where he fell to his death.

This problem is intensified in agricultural labor, which is not protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The U.S. Department of Labor found that there are roughly half a million child farmworkers in the United States, the overwhelming majority of these migrants. Despite children being over three times more susceptible to the toxic effects of pesticides as adults and being at an increased risk of heatstroke, many children as young as eight years of age work 10-hour days in the field for low wages.

As the contradictions and crises of capitalism continue to intensify, so too will the capitalist class continue to pursue profits every possible way. Large corporations will not accept falling rates of productivity, nor will they stop undermining labor laws.

The International Union of United Automobile Workers joined with the Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits to condemn this travesty in the strongest possible terms. This popular outcry spurred the investigation into Hyundai and its subsidiaries. The pressure must continue to ensure that the profiteers responsible are held accountable and to prevent future injustices.

It is only through rebuilding and strengthening the labor movement can workers resist the exploitations of the capitalist owners. Greater protections must be demanded and enforced to prevent the exploitation of minors. But ultimately, the profit-oriented capitalist economic system itself must be challenged so that no child must work to afford a decent standard of living.

Related Articles

Back to top button