Thanks To Hyundai, Child Labor Making A Comeback In The US Of A!

Class War
Thanks To Hyundai, Child Labor Making A Comeback In The US Of A!
Many youngsters here. Some boys and girls were so small th… | Flickr

Across the world, there are about 160 million child workers, 79 million of whom work in hazardous conditions. This is somewhat easy for Americans to ignore. It's not in our face on the regular, and the companies that do utilize child labor somewhere in their supply chains are gracious enough to keep said supply chains murky enough to give us all the plausible deniability we need.

But it's not something that's supposed to happen here, at least not anymore, even as many conservatives have pleaded over the years to bringitback. Who can forget Newt Gingrich's plea for poor children to work in their schools as janitors? Not me, because I bring it up all of the time in everyday conversation. But generally speaking, that is not the kind of thing people actually want to see.

And yet, it does happen here. Or at least it has been happening at SMART Alabama LLC, a Hyundai-owned metal stamping plant that has been employing children, usually migrant children, some as young as 12 years old, over the past few years at least.

This first came to light when one of those children, a 13-year-old girl, briefly went missing. Had her father not put out an amber alert for her, it is likely no one — aside from those who work in the plant — ever would have found out about it.

Several people familiar with the situation, including her father, Pedro Tzi, confirmed to Reuters that the girl and her two brothers — one 12 and the other 15 — were all working at the plant and were not going to school.

Via Reuters:

Pedro Tzi's children, who have now enrolled for the upcoming school term, were among a larger cohort of underage workers who found jobs at the Hyundai-owned supplier over the past few years, according to interviews with a dozen former and current plant employees and labor recruiters.

Several of these minors, they said, have foregone schooling in order to work long shifts at the plant, a sprawling facility with a documented history of health and safety violations, including amputation hazards.

Most of the current and former employees who spoke with Reuters did so on the condition of anonymity. Reuters 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.

SMART claimed in a statement that they had no knowledge of employing any minors, that they rely on staffing agencies, and that they expect "these agencies to follow the law in recruiting, hiring, and placing workers on its premises."

And no one besides the other workers on the line noticed that they were clearly under age? Really? They went unseen by any manager the whole time they were there? Really? Is it that, or are they just using these "staffing agencies" to muck up the employee supply chain in order to give them some plausible deniability?

I'm just saying, I was five-foot-five in seventh grade and even I wasn't passing for 18. People know what a 12-year-old looks like.

To make matters worse, this is not a safe place to work, even for adults (thus the previously mentioned "amputation hazards"). The plant has racked up almost $50K in health and safety fines since 2013.

This should not be happening anywhere and it sure as hell should not be happening here. And yet, the Department of Labor reports that from 2007 to 2016, there were 9700 violations of child labor laws in the United States. Also, because there is an exception for farm labor, there are approximately 500,000 child laborers working in agriculture in the United States, from the age of 8, often up to 72 hours a week.

The punishment for violating child labor laws in the United States is a fine of up to $10,000 per underage worker, but up to $50,000 if the child dies or is injured on the job. It is not yet clear if Hyundai or SMART will be charged with anything.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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