Hyundai busted using child labour in US parts factory


An investigation by global news agency Reuters has unearthed examples of children as young as 12 working for a Hyundai-owned parts supplier in the US.

Joshua Dowling


Authorities have been alerted to multiple instances of child labour being used at a parts-supply subsidiary of car giant Hyundai in North America.

The metal stamping facility – known as SMART – is located in Luverne, Alabama and supplies Hyundai’s US assembly line for family SUVs such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Hyundai Tucson, and other passenger vehicles.

A special investigation by news agency Reuters unearthed examples of children as young as 12 working at the Hyundai parts manufacturing facility, which has previously clocked up violations for “crush and amputation hazards.”


Reuters learned of underage workers at the Hyundai-owned supplier following the brief disappearance in February of a Guatemalan migrant child from her family’s home in Alabama,” the news agency reported in its exclusive story written by journalists Joshua Schneyer, Mica Rosenberg, and Kristina Cooke.

“The girl, who turns 14 this month, and her two brothers, aged 12 and 15, all worked at the plant earlier this year and weren’t going to school, according to people familiar with their employment,” Reuters reported, noting their father confirmed their account in an interview.

Local police helped locate the missing girl following a public alert.


“One former worker at SMART, an adult migrant who left for another auto industry job last year, said there were around 50 underage workers between the different plant shifts, adding that he knew some of them personally,” the Reuters news agency reported.

“Another former adult worker at SMART, a US citizen who also left the plant last year, said she worked alongside about a dozen minors on her shift.”

However, Reuters said it was “unable to determine the precise number of children who may have worked at the SMART factory, what the minors were paid, or other terms of their employment.”


Hyundai USA did not answer detailed questions from Reuters but instead supplied the following statement, noting the car maker “does not tolerate illegal employment practices at any Hyundai entity.”

“We have policies and procedures in place that require compliance with all local, state and federal laws,” the Hyundai statement continued.

Although Hyundai has attempted to distance itself from the scandal, Reuters reported SMART is listed by Hyundai in corporate filings as the majority-owner of the parts division.


SMART, in a separate statement, said it follows federal, state and local laws and “denies any allegation that it knowingly employed anyone who is ineligible for employment,” Reuters reported.

In an attempt to sheet the blame to temporary worker agencies, SMART said it expects “these agencies to follow the law in recruiting, hiring, and placing workers on its premises.”

As was the case with Hyundai, SMART did not answer specific questions from the investigations team at Reuters.

As this article was published, authorities in Alabama were yet to announce what action – if any – would be taken against Hyundai or SMART.

A spokesperson at the Alabama attorney general’s office declined to comment when approached by Reuters

However, after the story was published, a spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Labour said it would work with federal authorities to investigate the case.

“The revelation of child labour in Hyundai’s US supply chain could spark consumer, regulatory and reputational backlash for one of the most powerful and profitable automakers in the world,” Reuters reported. 

“In a human rights policy posted online, Hyundai says it forbids child labour throughout its workforce, including suppliers,” the news agency noted.

Joshua Dowling

Joshua Dowling has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years, spending most of that time working for The Sydney Morning Herald (as motoring editor and one of the early members of the Drive team) and News Corp Australia. He joined CarAdvice / Drive in 2018, and has been a World Car of the Year judge for more than 10 years.

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