Up here, it seems every other car is a Subaru. That’s because they’re relatively inexpensive, all-wheel-drive vehicles. And because Subaru cultivates an environmentally friendly, socially conscious identity.
But, according to a special report from Reuters, Subaru is not particularly friendly or socially conscious about the workers in its supply chain.
Subaru’s U.S. sales have almost doubled in the past four years. At the heart of that success is the company’s Forester all-wheel-drive SUV, which has carved out a following with American drivers for its performance, price and aura of social responsibility. That’s been a key selling point for Subaru, which has marketed itself in the U.S. as the automaker with a conscience. Subaru’s “Love Promise,” in which it pledges to make “a positive impact in the world,” has helped build loyal consumers in states like California, New York and Washington.
What Subaru does not tout is that its boom is made possible in part by asylum seekers and other cheap foreign laborers from Asia and Africa.
They work at the automaker and its suppliers at Subaru’s main production hub, here in the Japanese town of Ota, two hours north of Tokyo. Many are on short-term contracts. At Subaru, some foreign workers earn about half the wage of their Japanese equivalents on the production line. At the automaker’s suppliers, workers are often employed through brokers who charge up to a third of the workers’ wages. From countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Mali and China, these foreign laborers are building many of the parts for the Forester, including its leather seats, often in grueling conditions.
A Reuters investigation of factory conditions in Ota – including a review of payslips and asylum applications, and interviews with dozens of laborers from 22 countries – reveals that foreign workers are enduring abuses at the hands of labor brokers and companies in the Subaru supply chain. These include workers at Subaru’s suppliers like Lakhan Rijal, a stocky 34-year-old asylum seeker who said he was fired after injuring his back at a plant that makes seats for the automaker. Other foreign workers spoke about being pressured to work double shifts, being dismissed without notice and having no insurance.
Most of the 120 workers interviewed by Reuters were earning the minimum wage for machinery manufacturing in Ota’s Gunma prefecture – $6.60 an hour – or above.
But Reuters also found more than a dozen Indonesian laborers at two small Subaru suppliers who said their net monthly pay was $730. That works out to $3.30 per hour after rent, utilities and fees owed to the dispatch company in their home country had been deducted.
Subaru, like many other multinational corporations, uses the excuse that its suppliers are responsible for their own labor practices and it is not directly involved in supervising working conditions or the brokers who provide the cheap labor.
It seems Subaru shares the love with everyone and everything, except the workers who actually produce the vehicles it sells.