Chinese migrant workers subject to exploitative and restrictive labour conditions in Belt & Road projects, watchdog group says
The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), China’s ambitious transnational development program, is set to redefine globalization with “Chinese characteristics.” There is another, lesser-known aspect of the BRI initiative that deserves scrutiny: labour conditions for its Chinese workers. According to data from China’s Ministry of Commerce, in 2021, there were 592,000 Chinese workers overseas. A report published by China Labor Watch in November 2022 shows that these workers, hired via convoluted chains of subcontracting, isolated in their host societies with or without a legal status, and unfamiliar with local legal resources, experience exploitative and dangerous working conditions. Some troubling issues documented include restrictions of personal freedom, threats and use of physical violence, and strict COVID-19 policies.
BHRRC has invited the companies mentioned in the report to respond to allegations that Chinese migrant workers were subject to exploitative labour conditions in BRI projects. Companies were also invited to complete a Business & Human Rights survey outlined below. Only one company, Huayou Cobalt, has provided a response.
Business & Human Rights Survey
Human rights policy and due diligence
1- Does your company have a publicly available policy commitment to respect human rights in its operations and throughout its business relationships which specifically addresses workers’ rights and references relevant human rights standards (e.g. UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO core labour conventions). Yes/No. If yes, provide link.
2- Does your company have a human rights due diligence process for identifying and prioritising workforce risks in its operations and throughout its business relationships, specifically in your overseas projects (for example, in Indonesia/Serbia/DR Congo)? Yes/No. If yes, please explain this process and highlight the top three workforce risks you identified.
(Tips: the workforce risks may include but not limited to recruitment, payment and wages, document retention, job mobility & freedom of movement, safety and health, living condition, discrimination, physical and sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment)
Business relationships and human rights
3- Does your company require contractors, subcontractors and other business partners in its operations and supply chains to comply with your human rights and other rights-related policies and procedures? Yes/No.
If yes, please select what following measures towards contractors, subcontractors and other business partners your company has taken (please provide link to relevant policies or other evidence for the selected options):
- Integrate human rights requirements in contract clauses
- Code of Conduct of suppliers/contractors
- Responsible souring policies
- Audit & reporting
- Capacity building training, workshops, meetings, etc.
- Loans and financial support
- Stakeholder engagement
- Other measures, please specify__________
4- Does your company have an independent, third-party grievance mechanism in place for directly employed and subcontracted workers on your projects to raise concerns, in their own language, and in a way that ensures grievances can be reported safely, without intimidation or retaliation? If so, please provide relevant protocols.