Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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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.

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children

Certainly not in the United States.

According to the most recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation,

Nationally, 22 percent of children (16.1 million) lived in families with incomes below the poverty line in 2013, up from 18 percent in 2008 (13.2 million), representing nearly 3 million more children in poverty. The child poverty rate among African Americans (39 percent) was more than double the rate for non-Hispanic whites (14 percent) in 2013.

In 2013, three in 10 children (22.8 million) lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment. Since 2008, the number of such children climbed by nearly 2.7 million. Roughly half of all American Indian children (50 percent) and African-American children (48 percent) had no parent with full-time, year-round employment in 2013, compared with 37 percent of Latino children, 24 percent of non-Hispanic white children and 23 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children.

As the authors of the report make clear,

Growing up in poverty is one of the greatest threats to healthy child development. Already high compared with other developed nations, the child poverty rate in the United States increased dramatically as a result of the economic crisis. The official poverty line in 2013 was $23,624 for a family of two adults and two children. Poverty and financial stress can impede children’s cognitive development and their ability to learn. It can contribute to behavioral, social and emotional problems and poor health. The risks posed by economic hardship are greatest among children who experience poverty when they are young and among those who experience persistent and deep poverty.

It’s quite possible (given the decline in unemployment) the indicators of economic well-being for children will improve when the 2014 data are available. However, I’ll venture to guess the rates of poverty and of parents’ lack of secure employment will still be much too high—so high they’ll demonstrate that, in the United States, children simply don’t count.

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