Hyundai, Kia suppliers found employing children in Ala.

Labor Department spokesman Eric Lucero told Reuters the agency’s Wages and Hours Division was conducting an open investigation into Ajin, but could not confirm whether the investigation was related to child labor. Rejected.

Ajin said in a statement that it will “fully cooperate” with investigations by regulators and law enforcement agencies.

In a statement, Hyundai told Reuters it “does not condone or condone violations of labor laws” and called on “our suppliers and business partners to adhere strictly to the law.” We strongly condemn all practices and do not tolerate illegal or unethical work practices within our company or within our business partners or suppliers.”

South Korea’s two largest automakers, Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, are sister companies under the parent company Hyundai Motor Group. Both companies told Reuters they were reviewing their supplier hiring practices.

The discovery of child labor at a factory added to Hyundai’s US supply chain takes another blow to the reputation of Hyundai, which has become the third-largest car seller in the US in recent years due to its rapid growth and popularity. There is a possibility.

Previous reports of child labor have drawn scrutiny from law enforcement and regulators on the company’s ability to meet professed ethical standards and comply with basic U.S. labor regulations.

Internal human rights policies published online by both brands also prohibit child labor at Hyundai and Kia’s facilities and suppliers. Alabama and U.S. laws restrict factory work for anyone under the age of 16, and all workers under the age of 18 are prohibited from doing many dangerous jobs in auto factories. In a car factory, metal presses, cutting machines and speeding forklifts can endanger lives and limbs.

After Reuters’ previous reports of child labor at suppliers SMART and SL, Hyundai COO Jose Munoz told the press that the automaker’s purchasing department would “repeate” any dealings with the suppliers named in the news reports. He said he ordered it to stop as soon as possible. He also said he would investigate all suppliers to Hyundai’s Alabama operations.

Munoz added that Hyundai is moving away from using third-party staffing agencies, which many suppliers have relied on to vette and hire workers.

Hyundai has now moved away from Munoz’s statements.

In a recent statement to Reuters, Hyundai said it had canceled plans to cut off suppliers where minors were working. He said he had taken “corrective action” to terminate the company.

Hyundai noted the “significant economic role” that parts makers play in many small towns in Alabama and said, “At this time, it is better to conduct additional oversight than to cut ties with these suppliers.” added.

Hyundai declined to make Muñoz available for a follow-up interview.

Using third-party staffing agencies is a common practice among US manufacturers and other labor-intensive sectors. This tactic has long been criticized by labor activists because it gives factory owners and other employers the ability to outsource screening and hiring responsibilities. Employee Compliance.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported how a local recruitment agency in Alabama recruited illegal workers from Central America, including minors who entered the United States without parents or guardians, to supply them to a poultry processing plant. showed.

Like these minors, at least some of the children who worked for Hyundai’s suppliers, sometimes with the help of the staffing agencies themselves, used fake IDs and documents obtained through black market brokers. I was using

To understand how child labor has taken root in the supply chains of the world’s most successful automakers and the job market of the world’s richest country, Reuters interviewed more than 100 current and former factory workers and managers. , labor recruiters, and state and federal officials. , others.

For weeks, reporters toured auto parts factories in rural Alabama, reviewing thousands of pages of court records, corporate documents, police reports, and other records.

David Weil, former manager of the Labor Department’s Wages and Hours Division, said the signs of widespread child factory labor were “shocking.” “The age involved, the danger of them being employed, it’s a clear violation.”

There is a vast and partially interconnected network of mostly Korean-owned suppliers and staffing agencies throughout Alabama to service the Hyundai brand. Hyundai operates an assembly plant in Montgomery, the state capital. Kia Motors manufactures cars across state borders in West Point, Georgia.

So-called “right-to-work” jurisdictions whose laws allow workers to reject unions and thereby undermine the organized workforce, the two states have attracted many automakers and subsequent investments. It’s been attracting, and it’s been making billions of dollars in investments these days, even this year. There are tax cuts and other incentives along the way.

A key component of Hyundai’s supply network is its ability to provide ‘just-in-time’ delivery of parts. It is a modern manufacturing necessity aimed at minimizing stockpiles of materials. To avoid stopping assembly lines, Hyundai can fine suppliers thousands of dollars every minute for delays, according to a person familiar with the company’s operations.

Pressure has increased over the past few years as labor and supply shortages have crippled manufacturers, several current and former employees of suppliers told Reuters. COVID-19 Pandemic.

The struggle to meet demand has led employers to force assembly line personnel, whether or not employees are legally allowed to work, according to labor law experts. It is more likely that you will cut corners to secure it.

“It looks like the stage is set for this to happen,” said Terry Gerstein, director of state and local law enforcement projects for the Labor and Work-Life Program at Harvard Law School. “Factory in remote rural area. Area with low union density. Poor enforcement of regulations. Use of temporary staffing agencies.”

Labor shortages in manufacturing, and the low wages some factories and agencies offer for factory jobs, can attract the most sought-after job seekers, especially illegal immigrants and minors. It often happens.

Jordan Barab, former assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said, “When you have workers desperate for jobs and they are unempowered and competitive, you see a race to the bottom. There is often something wrong,” said the Federal Workplace Regulatory Agency.

So far, SL, a manufacturer in the city of Alexander in central Alabama, is the only supplier to Hyundai or Kia to be prosecuted for violating child labor laws. On Aug. 9, state and federal labor and law enforcement officials found seven workers aged between 13 and 16 on the SL factory floor, according to people familiar with the business and government documents.

The US Department of Labor told the court that SL Alabama “repeatedly violated” the law “by employing repressive child labor.” Fined the company about $30,000. The Alabama Department of Labor fined SL and his one of its staffing agencies totaling about $36,000.

SL told Reuters in October it was cooperating with investigators and auditing hiring policies. The company said it fired a staffing agency that had been fined by Alabama’s labor regulator and fired the president of SL’s Alexander City plant. The former president of the plant could not be reached for comment.

Among the children who worked at the factory were two Guatemalan brothers, ages 13 and 15, who were taken into custody by federal authorities, Reuters reported.

While they worked at SL, the brothers lived away from their parents and with other factory workers in a sparsely furnished house owned by the president of the staffing agency that hired them. home in Alabama.

A teenage cousin who worked in the factory with his brother said no one at SL ever checked the age of the workers.

“They didn’t ask any questions,” said the cousin.

Reuters did not disclose the names of the cousins, minors and illegal immigrants interviewed for this story, but has confirmed their identities and local work histories with authorities.

Since Reuters’ first report of child labor in Hyundai’s supply chain, staffing agencies have dismissed foreign workers from at least five factories, and current and former workers, especially those who were too young to legally leave the factories. Employees may have been working under false identities and some may have moved after being fired, officials said, prompting the dismissal to prompt authorities to investigate. is becoming more difficult.

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