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After Cambodia Digs Out Survivors, Eyes Cast Toward China’s Belt and Road Initiative

1 August 2019

...[O]n June 22, the seven-story building collapsed, killing 28 people and injuring at least 26.

...Cambodian authorities found that the construction project was illegal and have charged five Chinese nationals with involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy for their role in the accident.

Last week, 86 shipping containers containing 3.5 million pounds of plastic waste arrived illegally at the port in Sihanoukville....

...These incidents are the culmination of a recent tide of Chinese development in Cambodia. The kingdom is key to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plans in Southeast Asia, and Chinese firms have invested in everything from highways to casinos. At least 70% of Cambodia's foreign investments now come from China.

But following the June disaster in Sihanoukville, a group of construction workers, unions and civil society groups is now pushing back against Chinese developers' violations of Cambodian law. They're calling for all construction projects in Sihanoukville and across Cambodia to be suspended until independent experts can verify that contractors are complying with laws and safety standards.

...Without effective regulation, construction workers face immense risks such as illegal contractors who may be unregistered and lack insurance. When local authorities attempt to enforce labor laws and construction regulations, subcontractors shirk responsibility.

...The Cambodian government hasn't suspended construction projects as the unions demanded, but they have taken steps to address the problem....

...The Chinese government is aware of the problem as well. Regarding the arrest of Chinese nationals following the collapse in Sihanoukville, the embassy in Phnom Penh said they support "a thorough investigation of the accident and necessary measures by competent Cambodian authority in accordance with the law."

Civil society groups are monitoring the government's moves and say regulations on foreign investments and advancing workers rights are key steps toward development....

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