WASHINGTON--The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating Hyundai Motor Co. and one of its suppliers for illegal use of child labor at factories in Alabama. The Reuters news service claims that children as young as 12 were employed at the facilities, working up to 60 hours a week making auto parts.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently filed a complaint asking a federal court to prevent three Alabama companies, including Hyundai’s assembly plant in Montgomery, AL, that produces popular vehicles such as the Santa Fe, Tucson and Santa Cruz, from employing children illegally. The complaint also requests that the court require the three companies to “surrender profits related to the use of oppressive child labor.”

The action follows an investigation by the department’s Wage and Hour Division that discovered a 13-year-old working more than 50 hours per week on an assembly line in Luverne, AL, operated by SMART Alabama LLC. She allegedly operated machines that form sheet metal into auto body parts. A local employment agency, Best Practice Service LLC, was also named in the complaint.

“The Department of Labor’s complaint seeks to hold all three employers accountable in the supply chain,” says Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda. “Companies cannot escape liability by blaming suppliers or staffing companies for child labor violations when they are in fact also employers themselves.”

“A 13-year-old working on an assembly line in the United States of America shocks the conscience,” adds Wage and Hour Division Administrator Jessica Looman. “As we work to stop illegal child labor where we find it, we also continue to ensure that all employers are held accountable for violating the law.”

Incidents involving child labor in U.S. manufacturing have been increasing recently. According to Reuters, auto part plants owned by Hwashin America Corp. in Greenville, AL, and Ajin Industrial Co., Cusseta, AL, which supply Hyundai and Kia, have also used underage workers in the past.