Back in July Reuters announced that SMART Alabama, a supplier owned by Hyundai, had been employing children from the age of 12. The following month, the US Department of Labor accused a second supplier, SL Alabama LLC, of also using child labor. Today, Reuters published another report which claims that the problem of child labor among suppliers to Hyundai and Kia is even worse than we previously knew.
According Reuters, at least four suppliers in Alabama have used child labor in recent years. State and federal agencies would investigate up to six other vendors for the same thing. Hwashin America Corp is accused of hiring a 14-year-old girl at its plant in Greenville, Alabama, and a former employee of Ajin Industrial Co says Reuters they worked with at least 10 miners. This claim was backed up by six other former Ajin employees.
Since the initial report in July, Reuters indicates that up to 10 suppliers have been investigated for using child labour. But sources say they still don’t know whether or not those investigations will result in charges or fines. Ajin said he will “cooperate fully” with investigations, and Ajin and Hwashin say that “to the best of our knowledge” they have not hired any children.
When asked for a comment, Hyundai said Reuters it “does not condone or condone violations of labor law”. Kia, meanwhile, said it “strongly condemns all practices of child labor and does not tolerate any illegal or unethical practices in the workplace internally or among our business partners and suppliers.”
After news broke that SMART and SL were using child labor, Hyundai Chief Operating Officer José Muñoz said Reuters that their purchasing department would stop doing business with these suppliers “as soon as possible”. It also pledged to investigate all other vendors and to stop using third-party recruitment agencies that its vendors routinely use to find workers.
That doesn’t always seem true, however. Hyundai recently said Reuters that he had changed his mind about doing business with SMART and SL, saying they had taken “corrective action” and fired the recruitment agencies that supplied the child labourers. Hyundai said “additional monitoring is a better solution at this time than severing ties with these suppliers.”
A previous Reuters report explained in depth how recruitment agencies in Alabama are actively recruiting undocumented immigrants, including children without parents or guardians, to work in chicken processing plants. As with these workers, Reuters found that at least some of the children that Hyundai suppliers hired used false identities and documents and that recruitment companies themselves were sometimes implicated. Human trafficking authorities are also investigating.
During his investigation, Reuters “surveyed more than 100 current and former factory workers and managers, labor recruiters, federal and state officials, and others. The reporters spent weeks in auto parts factories in rural Alabama and reviewed thousands of pages of court records, company documents, police reports and other documents.
According to several current and former employees, the pressure on suppliers to deliver materials without delay or risk large fines became even more intense when the pandemic hit, causing shortages of labor and equipment. supply. And when there’s a lot of money at stake, many companies are willing to cut corners and break the law to find enough workers. Several labor experts Reuters spoken essentially portrays labor violations as inevitable.
“It looks like the stage was set for this to happen,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the state and local law enforcement project at Harvard Law School’s Work and Life Program. “Plants in remote rural areas. A region with low union density. Not enough enforcement. Use of placement agencies.
“When you have workers who are desperate for jobs and they are not self-sufficient and you have a lot of competition, you often see a race to the bottom,” said Jordan Barab, former deputy undersecretary for the ‘OSHA.
In August, SL was charged with violating child labor laws which require a person to be at least 16 to work in a factory and prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from working, which the ministry says Labor described as a “dangerous jobincluding “power-driven metal forming, punching and shearing machines”. When the DOL investigated SL, it reportedly found “seven workers between the ages of 13 and 16 at the SL plant”.
But the fines SL and the placement agency faced amounted to about $36,000, which is next to nothing. SL said Reuters he had fired the recruiting agency and fired the factory’s former president.
The entire report is incredibly long and in-depth, but absolutely worth reading.
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