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25 Apr 2019

Aaron Halegua & Jerome A. Cohen, Washington Post (US)

China: Attention to be drawn to Chinese workers dispatched overseas for the Belt and Road Initiative

“The forgotten victims of China’s Belt and Road Initiative”, 23 April 2019

World leaders will soon gather in Beijing for the second forum on China’s Belt and Road Initiative — the $1 trillion plan involving China’s bilateral agreements with more than 100 countries to enhance “connectivity” by building infrastructure projects and deepening economic ties. In the run-up to the event, many critics have highlighted the projects’ negative impacts on host countries, such as debt traps, land seizures, corruption and environmental degradation… But one group of victims is often overlooked: the Chinese workers dispatched overseas to build these projects… they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by their employers, sometimes even more so than their local co-workers… The recent federal criminal conviction of a Chinese construction firm executive for subjecting workers in New York to forced labor is a case in point… Incurring significant debts to pay large recruitment fees based on inaccurate job information is quite common… Deep in debt, without passports, and lacking access to transportation and independent advice, Chinese workers are often left to endure these conditions without recourse…

To its credit, China has acknowledged these problems, issuing policies and regulations that prohibit the collection of recruitment fees or security deposits, ban the hiring of workers on tourist visas and instruct companies to safeguard labor rights. But policies and regulatory standards are usually vague and not legally binding, and the legal provisions in place are routinely violated. China should announce plans to address this issue at this month’s forum…