ALABAMA, USA — The Alabama Coalition for Community Benefits issued an open letter on Thursday to Hyundai Motor of North America calling on the company to stop any use of child labor and to negotiate a community benefits agreement.
The letter from community leaders in Alabama comes as the U.S. Department of Labor continues to investigate widely reported alleged use of child labor by SMART, a Hyundai-owned parts supplier to the Korean company’s large assembly facility in Montgomery.
A Reuters writer initially reported evidence suggesting that as many as 50 underage workers – as young as 12 years old – had worked at the stamping plant that also has a long history of health and safety violations, including amputation hazards.
At the same time, another Hyundai supplier, SL Alabama, was sued by the Department of Labor last month over allegations that the supplier employed children under age 16. SL Alabama manufactures headlights and mirrors for Hyundai. Also last month, Hyundai was sued by Mexican workers who allege that Hyundai discriminated against them by paying them less than white workers at the same plant.
“When our state incentivizes employers to locate here, Alabamians have a right to expect a high level of accountability and transparency,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “Alabama has given up tax dollars to help support the Hyundai manufacturing plant and suppliers. We are asking for more accountability for all employers who receive subsidies and profit from state investments.”
“These allegations of child labor at multiple Hyundai subsidiaries suggest a potentially systemic problem with labor practices across the company’s U.S. supply chain,” United Auto Workers President Ray Curry said. “Accordingly, we urge the Biden Administration to use all available tools – administrative, criminal and civil – to investigate the alleged abuses and hold the company, its subsidiaries and suppliers, and any third-party labor recruitment firms accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The working people of Alabama welcomed Hyundai into our community with open arms and generous financial support, with the expectation that the company would be a good corporate community partner,” said Carmen Paschal, a production worker at the Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery. “The company needs to take responsibility, take action to prevent this kind of terrible exploitation and ensure that Hyundai provides quality jobs and workplace rights across its supply chain. We deserve nothing less.”
The Coalition works toward improving working conditions in Alabama manufacturing plants, including those in the state’s large auto industry. The Coalition includes civil rights groups, faith leaders, labor unions, Latinx organizations and environmental groups.
Scott Douglas, director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, said: “Taking advantage of children and placing them in harm's way must stop, and as a coalition partner, we will continue to fight until this practice ends.”
Community benefits agreements are legally enforceable agreements between private companies and coalitions of community and labor groups that ensure a wide range of high-road job standards and equity measures. The Coalition recently negotiated such an agreement with New Flyer, the largest bus manufacturer in North America, for its assembly facilities in Anniston, Alabama, and Ontario, California.
Hyundai and its suppliers employ thousands of workers in Alabama and are one of the largest employers in the greater Montgomery area. The region also has a disproportionately high rate of poverty for Black and Latino people ‒ often two to three times that of white people.