Youth Climate Strike LA and Mighty Earth disrupt LA Auto Show in protest of Hyundai’s use of child labor and coal

Share This:

Climate and human rights organizers turned up the heat on Hyundai this week at the LA Auto Show, where they staged a die-in to protest Hyundai’s use of child labor and dirty coal as part of their auto supply chain. Youth climate leaders from Climate Strike LA and organizers from Mighty Earth disrupted the auto show to encourage the world’s third largest automaker to clean up their supply chain as they transition to electric vehicles. 

Wired covered the demonstration, writing: “As gearheads and auto industry suits streamed into the Los Angeles Convention Center Saturday for the LA Auto Show, they found themselves in the middle of a scene out of Squid Games. Demonstrators clad in the Netflix show’s red jumpsuits and black guard masks splayed across the showroom floor like victims in a deadly game of red light, green light.”

Sim Bilal of Youth Climate Strike LA spoke out at the event about Hyundai’s responsibility to clean up its supply chain: “We’re doing this protest today because no child should be working in a factory, nor should any automakers still be using dirty coal as part of their supply chain. It’s time for Hyundai to lead the charge and take immediate steps to clean up the impacts of some of the most environmentally impactful materials used to manufacture its vehicles: steel, aluminum and batteries.” 

Climate protesters at LA Auto Show
Sim Bilal leads youth climate action
Photo by Hannah Benet | Survival Media Agency

The unprecedented transition to EVs represents a huge opportunity not only to cut pollution globally but to spur the creation of thousands of family-sustaining auto manufacturing and auto supply chain jobs for workers to build clean vehicles of the future. However, as the EV transition spreads, by 2040, 60% of embodied emissions from EVs are expected to come from the materials used to build the cars, such as high-carbon materials like steel and aluminum that are made with coal-fired energy. Pollution from these coal-dependent processes is linked to respiratory illnesses, cancer, and premature death for predominantly communities of color on the fence lines of these operations in places such as Dearborn Michigan and Burns Harbor Indiana.

Climate protesters at LA Auto Show holding banner
Mighty Earth and Youth Climate Strike LA disrupting LA Auto Show
Photo by Hannah Benet | Survival Media Agency

In the US, Hyundai was found to have hired children as part of their supply chain. In Korea, Hyundai Steel, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group and a major supplier of the steel used in Hyundai’s vehicles (including the Ioniq series), operates 3 out of the 11 coal-fired blast furnaces in South Korea and is the company with the third largest greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Alongside Hyundai Steel, Korea’s largest steelmaker and top industrial emitter, POSCO, is also a major supplier of Hyundai Motor Group, and operates the other 8 blast furnaces in the country, including 6 mega-furnaces with huge GHG and air pollutant emissions. Recent research by Solutions for Our Climate and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air showed that the air pollution from these 11 blast furnaces was related to approximately 506 premature deaths in 2021. 

Die-in at LA Auto Show
Climate organizers stage die-in
Photo by Hannah Benet | Survival Media Agency

Matthew Groch from Mighty Earth said: “From hiring children to work as part of their supply chain in Alabama to operating coal-fired blast furnaces in South Korea, it’s well past the time for Hyundai to clean up their supply chain. Hyundai markets itself as a ‘green company’ but there’s nothing green about dirty coal and child labor.” 

Hyundai’s electric vehicles have been making headway in the United States, winning multiple awards. The company is positioning itself in the U.S market as a leader in sustainability and the transition to electric vehicles. Despite its claims of “leadership in electrification”, 94% of Hyundai’s total sales in 2022 still consisted of fossil fuel vehicles

Hyundai also claims its electric vehicles are “answering the call for sustainability” with “sustainable materials applied throughout.” However, the efforts of Hyundai, and its subsidiary Kia, to eliminate emissions, environmental harms and human rights abuses from their supply chains were recently evaluated as part of the Lead the Charge Leaderboard, which revealed that Hyundai Motor Group is falling far behind many of its peers on sustainable and equitable supply chains. 

This protest is a culmination of a series of pressure points targeting automakers with dirty supply chains at this week’s LA Auto Show. On Wednesday U.S. Rep Ro Khanna (CA-17) joined a panel event of experts to discuss steps needed for automakers to clean up their supply chains as they transition to EVs. On Friday Public Citizen (in collaboration with the United Auto Workers) protested Toyota’s various attempts to muddy the waters and slow the transition to zero emissions vehicles. Mighty Earth also put pressure on Hyundai with a series of billboards and digital ads buys highlighting Hyundai’s use of coal and child labor.

Billboard from Mighty Earth reading "A new Hyundai, a stolen childhood"
Billboard from Mighty Earth calling out Hyundai’s use of child labor

The message to Hyundai at the Auto Show was clear: clean up your supply chain, or climate and human rights organizers will hold you accountable.