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Saturday, July 19, 2008

t r u t h o u t | The Dark Side of the Toyota Prius

  The National Labor Committee (NLC), a New York-based human rights group, has been investigating working conditions at Toyota Motor Corp., and the labor used to produce its best-selling Prius hybrid cars.

    In its 65-page report released in June, NLC includes first-hand testimony of factory conditions in "Toyota City," outside of Nagoya, Japan - less than 200 miles southwest of Tokyo - where the largest auto company in the world employs some 70,000 people.

    The report alleges that Toyota exploits guest workers, mostly shipped in from China and Vietnam. According to the NLC, these workers are "stripped of their passports and often forced to work - including at subcontract plants supplying Toyota - 16 hours a day, seven days a week, while being paid less than half the legal minimum wage." Workers are forced to live in company dormitories and deported for complaining about poor treatment, the report finds.

    Low-wage temporary workers make up one-third of Toyota's Prius assembly-line workers, mostly in the auto-parts supply chain. They are signed to contracts for periods as short as four months, and are paid only 60 percent of a full-time employee's wage.

    Parts plants run by subcontractors advertise standard, nine-hour, five-day-a-week jobs. But according to the NLC, "the typical shift was 15 to 16.5 hours a day, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. or 1:00 a.m."

    In 2002, Kenichi Uchino, 30, died while working at the "green" Tsutsumi plant that assembles the Prius. During the 13th hour of a routine 14-hour day, Uchino collapsed on the shop floor of the internationally lauded "sustainable" factory, which uses sulfur-oxide-eating paint and boasts 5 percent emissions reductions. A Japanese court ruled that Uchino's death was caused by exhaustion from overwork.

t r u t h o u t | The Dark Side of the Toyota Prius

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