Updated at 12 pm on 6/19/08
I've just been on the highway to the future, and it felt great! This very green roadway was inside a big blue trailer-tractor parked by Toyota on the New Haven, Connecticut green during its big International Arts & Ideas festival.
Toyota on the green in New Haven, CT. Is its stellar reputation in trouble?
I shuffled in and was given a free packet of organic basil seeds. A bar code on the packet could be scanned to accumulate "highway miles." I correctly guessed that 2007 was the 10th birthday of the Prius, and that Toyota builds cars in Georgetown, Kentucky.
The touchscreen graphics were really cool and the message was green to a fault. The trailer was packed with a couple of dozen players, all racking up their miles. I earned 550 and won the right to plant a tree, which I chose to locate in Indiana.
One wants to believe in Toyota. Since '97 it has sold a million hybrids around the world. It was right about the Prius, which accounts for a whopping 72 percent of all hybrid sales. What people wanted was a unique, high-mileage hybrid vehicle that made a statement about their green commitment. To date, only Toyota has delivered that.
Toyota has also purchased 100 percent green power, planted trees, has "living in harmony with the Earth" as one of its guiding principles, and on and on.
So it was kind of disturbing to see the company linked to human trafficking and sweatshop abuses. According to a 65-page report made public by the National Labor Committee June 18, Priuses are "made by low-wage temps." The report says that a third of the company's assembly-line workers in Japan are temporary, "have few rights and earn less than 60 percent of what full-time workers do."
Toyota's hybrids are made in Changchun, China as well as Japan and the U.S. The report says that exploited foreign guest workers (from China and Vietnam) are involved in the company's vaunted "Just in Time" parts supply chain. These workers, it says, toil 16 hours a day, seven days a week making half the minimum wage.
The rather lurid charges also claim that Toyota has ties to ruthless Burmese dictators.
Yikes! Say it isn't so, Toyota!
"They're looking into this," says Wade Hoyt, a Toyota representative in New York. "It's about overseas entities, so we're going to need a response from Japan." Hoyt did add that the one charge against Toyota's U.S. operations-- that it uses a two-tier, low-wage model that amounts to a "race to the bottom" -- was a bit unfair since the United Auto Workers had agreed to it. And the company may well claim, in its defense, that its overseas operations are forced to deal with the labor conditions that actually exist in the host countries.
Toyota's world headquarters has issued the following statement: "We are reviewing the lengthy report issued today by the National Labor Committee. As the well-being of our workforce and suppliers is one of our highest priorities, we are taking the allegations seriously."
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.