A Chinese manufacturer of Chicago's 'L' cars was named in a child labor report, and now the city is asking for details

A Chinese manufacturer of Chicago's 'L' cars was named in a child labor report, and now the city is asking for details

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CHICAGO - The Chicago Transit Authority is asking a Chinese manufacturer for more details about its supply chain after a news report that children are being used to mine materials in Africa that might be used in "L" car production.

The report said that children as young as 4 from poor families in Madagascar are mining for mica, which is a type of mineral used in cosmetics, electronics and other products. The NBC report said that the materials end up in goods sold by companies such as Panasonic and CRRC, a Chinese government-owned car rail company whose U.S. subsidiary, CRRC Sifang America, has a $1.3 billion contract to produce "L" cars for the CTA.

"Due to our concerns about some recent media reports, CTA has requested that CRRC provide more detailed information about its supply chain for the new 7000-series rail cars, specifically about materials providers and their sources," CTA spokesman Brian Steele said in a statement on Friday.

Steele said that once CTA is able to review more information, "we'll be in a position to determine what actions, if any, we can take."

In a statement, Dave Smolensky, a spokesman in Chicago for CRRC Sifang, said that the company "expressly prohibits" the use of child labor in the making of any of the components used in the assembly of its rail cars.

"The majority of components used in the production of our railcars are sourced from U.S. suppliers," Smolensky said in the emailed statement. "We expect all our suppliers to treat their workers with dignity, respect and responsible employment practices."

The November 18 NBC story said that mica mined by "an underground army" of children in the island African nation "make their way through an opaque supply chain from Africa to Asia before landing in millions of products - electronics, appliances, even trains - that wind up in America."

CRRC Sifang employs dozens of people at a Hegewisch facility. The 10-year contract with the CTA calls for building up to 846 new "L" cars. Smolensky said CTA will start testing car prototypes on "L" tracks early next year, though they won't be used for paying customers until later in 2020.

The NBC report is a new piece of bad news for CRRC Sifang, which had planned to grow its business by taking orders from other transit systems across the country.

But a proposal being considered in the U.S. Congress would bar transit agencies from using federal money to buy Chinese buses and rail cars. While this proposal would not affect the CTA's current contract, it would prevent the Hegewisch factory taking on other work, and creating more Chicago jobs. CRRC is fighting the proposed legislation.

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