The carmaker Subaru is having a great decade so far: their sales have doubled in the United States and they’re having trouble keeping up with the demand. While that’s great news for Subaru, an in-depth investigation from Reuters shows that Subaru and its suppliers have turned to some questionable but legal labor practices to keep the Foresters coming down the line.
You should check out the entire investigation from Reuters, which includes a diagram of which parts of a Forester come from which suppliers, and video interviews with workers.

  1. Subaru’s sales have doubled in the United States since 2011: its Forester SUV crossover is especially popular here. Its marketing features loving families, cute dogs, and exceptionally long-lasting cars, all with the slightly baffling tagline, “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”
  2. Subaru’s manufacturing center is in the city of Ota, Japan, north of Tokyo. While some vehicles sold in the U.S. are assembled in a plant in Indiana, parts come from Subaru and its suppliers in Ota.
  3. Subaru and its suppliers hire workers from the developing world, some of whom are in Japan to apply for asylum. Reuters talked to workers who came from 22 different countries in Asia and Africa.
  4. Workers also come to Subaru’s suppliers through labor brokers, the same kind used in the clothing and textile industries, and up to a third of their pay goes to the brokers.
  5. Some workers come to Subaru through traineeship programs, where the ostensible goal is for the trainee to learn skills and bring them back to their home country. The problem is that trainees can’t switch employers once they get to Japan, and the United Nations and U.S. State Department say that conditions for trainees can be like forced labor.
  6. Chinese trainees whose pay stubs Reuters reviewed earned about half what a Japanese temp worker would have earned for the same job.
  7. Japan is unique in that it needs workers but also limits immigration, which is why Subaru apparently depends heavily on guest workers and trainees. Reuters estimates that 30% of the labor force in the plants in Ota are foreigners.
  8. Factories that make parts for Subaru also make parts for other Japanese automakers, including Honda, Toyota, and Nissan.
  9. Subaru makes about 80% of its cars in Japan, and its increase in sales coincided with a change to the law that lets foreigners seeking asylum work on renewable six-month permits.
  10. Subaru says that its suppliers must obey the law in their hiring and treatment of their workers, and that the company isn’t equipped to check the labor practices of all of its suppliers.

Subaru’s secret: Marginalized foreign workers power a Japanese export boom [Reuters]

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Consumerist.