Undocumented and Underage
A Dickensian scenario was playing out in America’s South: undocumented immigrant children, some as young as 12, working in dangerous factories building parts for two of the world’s most successful automakers: Hyundai and sister brand Kia. Initially prompted by the soaring number of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border and ending up in rural Alabama, Reuters reporters Joshua Schneyer, Mica Rosenberg, and Kristina Cooke spent more than a year with many of the state’s rural immigrant communities and uncovered widespread abuses in a fast-growing local industry enabled by billions of dollars in tax incentives and lax labor laws. First, the reporters found that Alabama staffing agencies were hiring underage migrants and putting them to work in poultry slaughterhouses. Soon, they discovered agencies had also placed kids at SMART Alabama LLC, a parts maker owned by Hyundai. Children were working long hours, including graveyard shifts, in dangerous conditions. Some were racing to repay human smugglers who had brought them over the border, authorities and migrants said. As a result of the reporting, authorities quickly found and rescued kids from one factory, and employers released other children from similar jobs. Alabama and U.S. agencies launched at least 10 investigations into the hiring practices. A Hyundai supplier and its recruiter have been fined for violating child labor laws. And Hyundai has acknowledged the problem, pledged reforms to remove all child labor from its supply chain, and begun discussions with the U.S. Department of Labor about the violations.