Tesla vows 'additional oversight' after labor exploitation comes to light

'Sounds like the wrong thing happened on many levels,' says Elon Musk

Tesla is a brand built on good intentions, from its push to alternative energy to ethical workplace policies. But, that good will is being put to the test, as the automaker has responded to accusations of exploiting cheap foreign labor.

The allegations claim that German contractor Eisenmann - and Eisenmann's subcontractor, ISM Vuzem - circumvented loopholes to bring in severely underpaid and overworked staff to the US to help expand Tesla's factory installations.

"Tesla will be working with Eisenmann and Vuzem to investigate this thoroughly," stated Tesla in an official release. "If the claims are true, Tesla will take action to ensure that the right thing happens and all are treated fairly."

Slovenian electrician Gregor Lesnik originated the claims after telling The Mercury News that employees such as himself worked 10-hour days, six days a week, for a pittance of $5 an hour. By contrast, American laborers make up to $52 an hour for performing similar roles.

Adding to the issue was that contracted workers, like Lesnik, came to the US on B1/B2 visas, which are strictly intended for business visitors, tourists, and supervisors - meaning that doing hands-on labor is forbidden by US immigration law.

Who is to blame?

Tesla appears to be out of the hot water, stating that the company contractually obligates its contractors to "to comply with all laws," absolving them of any legal responsibility.

"If Mr. Lesnik or his colleagues were really being paid $5 an hour, that is totally unacceptable," the company added. "Tesla is one of the highest paying hourly employers in the US automotive industry. We do this out of choice, because we think it is right."

Tesla CEO and chairman Elon Musk also stated on Twitter that he had not been aware of the issue until today. "Sounds like the wrong thing happened on many levels," Musk wrote, concurring that Tesla will investigate the concern and "make it right."

We reported earlier this month that Tesla had bigger production goals than we thought the company's modestly-sized factories were capable of. We joked then that Tesla was either over-promising or harboring something sinister, and it's unfortunate that the latter may turn out to be true.