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China Exports prison labor on overseas projects in the developing world

Posted by Author on August 16, 2010

By Brahma Chellaney, from New Delhi — Globe and Mail Update –

hina has devised a novel strategy to relieve pressure on its overcrowded prisons: Use convicts as labourers on overseas projects in the developing world. The practice has exposed another facet of China’s egregious human-rights record, which, when it comes to the overseas operations of Chinese companies, includes the government’s failure to enforce its own regulations.

Not only is China the world’s leading executioner – it puts to death three times as many people every year as the rest of the world combined – it also has one of the largest prison populations: 1.57 million inmates in 2009, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College, London.

The forced dispatch of prisoners to work on overseas infrastructure projects raises new issues regarding China’s human-rights record. It also adds a new element – the dumping of convicts – to its trade and investment policy, which has been much criticized for dumping goods.

Thousands of Chinese convicts, for example, have been pressed into service on projects undertaken by state-run Chinese companies in Sri Lanka, a strategically important country for Beijing as it seeks to enhance its regional position in the Indian Ocean. After providing Sri Lanka’s government with weapons systems that helped end the country’s decades-long civil war, China has been rewarded with port-building, railroad and other infrastructure projects.

Chinese convicts also have been sent to the Maldives, where the Chinese government is building 4,000 houses on several different islands as a government-to-government “gift” to win influence. So far, however, China has failed to persuade the country’s President to lease it one of the 700 uninhabited Maldivian islands for use as a small base for the Chinese navy.

Chinese companies’ operating practice for overseas projects is to keep the number of local workers to a bare minimum and to bring in much of the work force from China, including convicts “freed” on parole for project-related overseas work. Convict labourers, like the rest of the Chinese work force on such projects, are housed near the project site. That way, if any convict worker escaped, he would be easy to find in an alien setting.

In theory, such practices run counter to regulations promulgated by the Chinese commerce ministry in August of 2006, in response to a backlash against Chinese businesses in Zambia after the death of 51 Zambian workers in an explosion at a Chinese-owned copper mine. These regulations called for “localization,” including hiring local workers, respecting local customs and adhering to safety norms. In October of 2006, the State Council – China’s cabinet – issued nine directives ordering that Chinese overseas businesses “pay attention to environmental protection,” “support local community and people’s livelihood cause” and “preserve China’s good image and its good corporate reputation.”

But Chinese regulations are sometimes promulgated simply to blunt external criticism, and thus are seldom enforced (except when a case attracts international attention). In 2003, for example, China enacted a law on environmental-impact assessments that was followed in 2008 by “provisional measures” to permit public participation in such assessments. Yet, Chinese leaders remain more zealous about promoting exports and economic growth than in protecting the country’s air and water…….(more details from The Globe and Mail: Exporting convicts stains China’s reputation)

One Response to “China Exports prison labor on overseas projects in the developing world”

  1. James Poulter said

    Great Article!

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