People in many countries were joyful when their officials made deals with the Chinese government and Chinese companies – often the same thing – to build plants and ports and other infrastructure in their homelands.
But local dreams of new jobs arising from these transactions frequently failed to become reality, noted Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “For example, in Ethiopia,” he said, “where they import workers from China, bring them to Ethiopia, and then use them to undercut the labor market for Ethiopia.”
The same situation has occurred in other countries – from Vietnam to Jamaica - where China has deployed hundreds of thousands of its workers.
But it is not only local laborers who are hurt by the policies of the Chinese government and companies. The Chinese workers themselves are often victims – subjected to forced labor amid miserable and unsafe working conditions. Frequently they must pay fees or security deposits that make them vulnerable to debt-based coercion; their hours are long; and their wages are often low and outrageously delayed. Chinese workers, Assistant Secretary Destro said, “are treated as commodities, not as people.”
A case in the United States demonstrates the abuse. In March 2019, Dan Zhong, a former Chinese diplomat and head of U.S. operations for a Chinese construction business, was convicted of engaging in forced labor and related charges by a federal jury in New York.
“These are human beings, forced to work seven days a week with no pay and forced to live in squalid housing with dozens of others, trapped by guards who would hunt them down and drag them back if they escaped,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney.
“Mr. Zhong and others may have believed they could get away with human trafficking and forced labor in this country because of the Chinese government’s disregard of the laws where it operates, but they will now face justice for their crimes” in these kinds of cases.
The disregard for the rule of law by the Chinese government and those who answer to it has far reaching, deleterious effects, not only on Chinese citizens under brutal control in China, but for laborers, including Chinese laborers, around the world. The United States will continue to press for transparency and accountability, so that the rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including their labor rights, are recognized and honored.