The extravagant, newly-opened Disneyland in Shanghai is no disguise for workers being exploited by Disney suppliers. Mizutani workers are still fighting for their rights regardless of the hostility of the Mizutani and Disney management. WE writes about that with other supporters of Mizutani workers on OpenDemocracy.
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Bloomberg BNA: Labor NGOs Face Tough Times in Guangdong; Group Alleges Child Labor, Corruption in Factory Audits (16-8-2012)
Labor NGOs Face Tough Times in Guangdong; Group Alleges Child Labor, Corruption in Factory Audits
Key Development: Seven labor rights and labor education groups have been evicted due to pressure on landlords by local governments.
Potential Impact: Groups see the crackdown as part of a new effort of social management that steers all labor issues through official channels while at the same time trying to eliminate or pressure independent voices.
SHENZHEN, China – Up to seven labor nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and migrant worker advocacy groups in south China’s Guangdong province have been forced to move or close their offices in the past six months after being evicted by landlords who came under pressure from local authorities, groups affected told BNA on August 15.
Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), a labor rights group based in Hong Kong, released a statement on August 6 detailing what it called a “crackdown” on such groups in the cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan.
SACOM also issued an open letter from dozens of international scholars who follow China labor policies on Aug. 15 that calls on the Guangdong government to address the “apparently systematic repression” against the labor groups.
The push against the labor NGOs comes at a time when authorities in Shenzhen have begun to allow greater freedom for workers to organize under the only official labor union in China, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), in order to participate in direct elections of worker representatives in their factories.
Following one such election at OMRON Electronic Components (Shenzhen) Ltd. on May 27, the head of the Shenzhen branch of the ACFTU said that 163 companies could hold direct elections for union representatives over the next year, though labor watchers have not seen any indication that this has started two-and-a-half months into the pilot project.
Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesperson for Hong Kong-based labor rights group China Labor Bulletin, told BNA by phone on August 16 that it was difficult to know how well the direct election process is going since the Shenzhen ACFTU, which is directing the pilot process in the municipality, has not announced any election results from other factories.
Chen Mao, an officer at the Shenzhen Migrant Workers Center (Dagongzhe), one of the labor NGOs recently evicted from its offices, told BNA in an interview during a visit to the group’s new office location on August 15 that most workers feel the pilot election process is a more of a highly orchestrated “show” than a real push for giving more electoral powers for workers.
Guangdong province also issued new regulations on July 1 regarding the registration of NGOs, allowing such groups to register for the first time without having to have a governmental or institutional sponsor as their backer, which has long been seen as a way to manage such groups and restrict their independence.
Debby Chan, a project officer with SACOM, told BNA in a phone discussion on August 15 that there was “a lot of speculation” as to why the crackdown is occurring, saying one possibility was that it is related to government concern about social stability due to the upcoming political transition among the top leadership in Beijing.
Another speculation is that the Shenzhen government – where most of the NGOS impacted are based, besides one other in Dongguan – is trying to “co-opt NGOs that are loyal” while getting rid of those that are not, Chan said.
The third theory is that recent reforms launched in Guangdong and Shenzhen are simply new social management policies by directing any possible social conflict through official channels rather than a real liberalization.
Crothall said he suspected that the moves against the labor NGOs had more to do with the Shenzhen and Dongguan local governments than anything being ordered from higher authorities in Guangdong, though other labor activists are uncertain.
The Dagongzhe center, which has conducted educational and labor rights discussion programs with migrant workers in Shenzhen since 2000, first started getting eviction requests from its landlord in November last year.
The group had signed a three-year lease just two months before, Chen said, but then the landlord started to call on them to leave and “implied that they needed to move and that the local government was behind” the pressure.
An official eviction notice giving the group a week to move came in April, though under their contract the group should have been given a two-month notice, group members said.
Francine Chan, an officer from Worker Empowerment, the Hong Kong-based partner of Dagongzhe, told BNA during the visit that they didn’t realize it was a series of crackdowns until they contacted other labor NGOs and found out they were all having similar eviction problems.
While these pressures on landlords initially have come from the village committees in the localities where the offices are based, Chan said, “no one really knows who it comes from” above that level.
Chen of Dagongzhe said the labor NGOs are “confused” about why this is going on and people are questioning whether the recent relaxation policy toward NGO registration is a “real opening or [just] a new social management policy.”
Chen said they approached the government in the Longgang district of Shenzhen where their offices have been based to discuss the possibility of registering their group, which currently operates under a business license, as an officially-recognized NGO and “the government denied that the policy even existed.”
The group has also reached out to the local ACFTU and was told that they should send their workers to the official labor union for education and that officers there implied that their group did not need to exist and was competing with them, Chen said.
Chen said he “didn’t see a conflict” between what the ACFTU and his group were doing and thought there could be a mutual relationship, but added that “many workers don’t know what a trade union is when they come to us” and questioned whether the ACFTU was actually doing much to educate workers about their rights.
Crothall of China Labor Bulletin said there had recently been a spike in strikes in Guangdong in July related to wage arrears, mainly in construction and manufacturing industries.
Chen echoed his thoughts, saying wage issues were among the top three concerns for workers that come through his center, mainly because the wages have not kept up with rising living costs.
While the minimum wage was raised in Shenzhen officially in February to 1500 yuan per month ($235), many smaller and medium sized companies were not following the rule, while foreign enterprises and domestic companies with over 500 employees are meeting the standards, Chen said.
Other top concerns are related to social insurance and pension that is taken out of salaries, since it is not transparent to many workers where these payments go and confusing about whether they can collect them eventually or how they can transfer what they have paid in to where they have their hukou, or household registration, which is usually back in their hometown.
The increased use of labor dispatch agencies had also “seriously affected the construction industry,” Chen said, because there are so many layers of employment agencies and outsourcing within that industry that it is “often difficult for the workers to track back to their real employer” when they have wage arrears or other wage concerns.
Samsung Accused of Child Labor, Government Denies
A New York-based labor group China Labor Watch (CLW) released a 31-page report on August 7 alleging child labor violations at HEG Electronics (Huizhou) Co., Ltd., a manufacturer of Samsung Electronics Co. phones and DVD players in the city of Huizhou in Guangdong province.
The group conducted investigations by sending investigators to work at the factory in June and July of this year, finding at least seven workers under the age of 16 in their division of the factory and leading them to estimate that there were around 50 to 100 such under-age workers at the facilities in Huizhou.
The investigation also alleges that some auditors from auditing firm Intertek, which did the social responsibility audit on the factory, had been accepted bribes in the past from companies in order to receive passing audits, calling into question the company’s ability to conduct qualified audits.
In a hearing on July 31, CLW founder Li Qiang addressed the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and raised the Intertek issue while also alleging the “audit system used by multinational corporations” in China was “not effective” and “corrupt.”
Authorities in Huizhou denied there were child labor violations at the factory in a statement on the official municipal government website on August 9, saying they had checked the ages of the seven workers alleged to have been underage and found that all were over the age of 16.
The China Labor Watch report can be found here:
By Michael Standaert
Reproduced with permission from Daily Labor Report, 159 DLR A-5 (Aug. 16, 2012). Copyright 2012 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com
In recent months, a number of grassroot labour NGOs in Shenzhen have been facing crackdown in different degrees. Dagongzhe Centre, Worker Empowerment’s partner organisation in Shenzhen, was forced to move by the landlord in April 2012, and was cut water and electricity supply for 2 months. After several attempts of petition by the staff and supportive workers, the centre did not manage to stay and resorted to move to a new location in July 2012.
Apart from Dagongzhe centre, 6 other labour NGOs have been facing similar situations. This does not comply with the new policy direction of social management boosted in Guangdong in recent years. The dim future of civil society development in Guangdong has aroused concern from both domestic and overseas media, and reports in English include the following –
27-07-2012 South China Morning Post: Guangdong shuts down at least seven labour NGOs
28-07-2012 Wall Street Journal: Labor NGOs in Guangdong Claim Repression
13-08-2012 In These Times: Chinese Labor Activists Get Shut Out, But Won’t Shut Up
16-08-2012 Bloomberg BNA: Labor NGOs Face Tough Times in Guangdong; Group Alleges Child Labor, Corruption in Factory Audits
02-09-2012 Global Post: Government crackdown on labor groups worsens in South China
10-09-2012 AFP: Crackdown on China Workers’ Rights Groups
24-09-2012 Wall Street Journal: Hon Hai Riot Highlights Squeeze on Chinese Manufacturers
Further discussion –
Ivan Franceschini: Another Guangdong Model: Labour NGOs and New State Corporatism
Hsiao-hung Pai: China, the View from the Ground
Petition letters –
International Scholars Call on Guangdong Government to Stop Repression Against Labour NGOs
Open Letter by a group of Hong Kong-based labour organisations: Please confirm the legitimate work of NGOs and support their continued development
Open Letter by a group of Chinese Academics: About the Development of Labour NGOs – Letter to the Provincial Government of Guangdong and the Municipal Government of Shenzhen
Statement from War on Want: Crackdown on Labour Organisations in China
For more articles in Chinese, please refer to the Chinese version of our website.
Guangdong shuts down at least seven labour NGOs
South China Morning Post 27-7-2012
Guangdong authorities have shut down at least seven Shenzhen non-governmental groups that advocate for the rights of migrant workers.
Veteran labour-rights activists have described the five-month crackdown as unprecedented.
Ironically, authorities have pledged that the province will be the mainland’s first to ease registration requirements for NGOs from July 1.
Several activists told the South China Morning Post that they were evicted from their offices after their landlords were pressured by officials who conducted frequent checks of the facilities.
Mainland labour-rights NGOs often report of harassment from the authorities, who fear that foreign-funded and lobbying groups could organise large-scale strikes, incite protests or trigger social unrest.
Zhang Zhiru , director of the Shenzhen Spring Breeze Labour Disputes Service Centre, said he had rented the seven NGO offices that were shut down.
They include the Yuandian Worker Service Centre, the Shenzhen Migrant Worker Centre, the Green Grass Worker Service Centre, the Times Female Worker Service Centre, the Little Grass Workers’ Home and another labour NGO in Longgang district that declined to be named.
Our office was the first to be closed in February, only three months after we moved to a new location in the outskirts of Baoan district, Zhang told the Post.
The landlord demolished our signboard and suspended our water and power supply even though we had signed a three-year contract and paid enough rent. It’s ironic that authorities said publicly that they would take a more open-minded approach to NGOs, and meanwhile they were conducting a widespread crackdown on us.
Zhang said his office mainly provided legal aid to migrant workers with labour disputes.
Chen Mao, an NGO worker with the 13-year-old Shenzhen Migrant Worker Centre, said he was shocked at the magnitude of the crackdown.
Our office was forced to shut down in May, he told the Post. In the past, most harassment and retaliation [against us] came from employers who were angry because of our work in upholding migrant workers’ rights. I have never seen such a large-scale clampdown from authorities in our centre’s history.
Chen, who petitioned Shenzhen authorities last month to find out why the closure was ordered, said his landlord had frequently been harassed by local officials since November. He would not speculate on the reasons behind the crackdown, but said he did not think it was because the authorities were afraid of social unrest sparked by migrant workers before the next party congress.
Shenzhen officials told me that all NGOs in the province are still required to find a government department to act as a sponsor before they are able to register. They said they had not received any orders from the provincial government to ease registration controls, he said.