Overseas workers accusing China of forced labour, human rights violations

Beijing: Chinese companies are using the official “One Belt, One Road” transnational economic strategy to forcibly export Chinese workers overseas, according to a report by China Labor Watch.

In a report titled ‘The Silent Victim: One Belt One Road China Struggling Overseas in the Covid-19 Disease’, the CLW accused Chinese embassies and consulates for turning a blind eye to various human rights violations, reported LTN.

CLW contacted nearly 100 Chinese workers stranded in Indonesia, Algeria, Singapore, Jordan, Pakistan, Serbia and other countries.

The infringements by Chinese companies, such as passport retention, restrictions on freedom of movement, overtime work, no holidays, wage arrears, forced use of illegal visa work, deceptive recruitment and false promises, isolation from local communities, intimidation 

and threats, are commonly mentioned, LTN reported.

Washington Post also quoted the report, which described that overseas Chinese workers are victims of human trafficking and forced labour and these workers are forced to work even while infected with COVID-19.

Some said they were beaten for protesting conditions or forced into “thought training”.

“The entire Belt and Road initiative is based on forced labour… Chinese authorities want the Belt and Road projects for political gain and need to use these workers,” said Li Qiang, director of CLW.

Abuses of workers are not just potentially embarrassing for Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative, they are also possibly a violation of international law. 

Li said all 11 indicators of forced labour listed by the International Labor Organization (ILO), from debt bondage to excessive overtime and abusive conditions, were present in the Chinese workplaces described by interviewees.

One worker was paralyzed after being struck by a hammer. In Indonesia, a worker was crushed to death by a truck. Another said he lost sight in one eye after an injury at work, the workers told CLW, reported Washington Post.

“The abuses are everywhere. The competitive advantage China is exporting is its low regard for human rights,” said Li.

One of the workers, who contracted the coronavirus last year, was put in isolation without medical attention and was later found dead, said workers at the Delong industrial park.

“I think that the Chinese government is embarrassed by examples of its workers being abused overseas,” said Aaron Halegua, a lawyer representing Chinese construction workers in a lawsuit alleging forced labour, filed in US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands against the Imperial Pacific casino on Saipan and two of its Chinese contractors.

“Significant abuses of overseas workers still persist even after the launch” of the Belt and Road initiative, he added.

Their basic human rights have been severely violated, but because they are abroad, it is difficult to seek protection under Chinese law, and the Chinese companies that force these workers to work often get away with it, the report further mentioned.

Employers also refuse to pay for promised journeys to home, after prices of limited flights back to China soared. If workers could not pay the extra costs of up to several thousand dollars, they could not return.

One of the workers, named Ding, was locked in a 170-square-foot workers’ dormitory near a Chinese smelting facility in Konawe, Indonesia for four months.

Earlier this year, he finally pulled apart the plastic bars on a rear window and climbed out, fleeing on a motorbike driven by a friend, Washington Post reported. “It was like I went to hell and back. I had no other choice but to escape,” he said.