Report: Chinese Bad Employers in Africa

Erin Conway-Smith, Global Post (Boston), July 29, 2009

At several Chinese-run projects in Windhoek, workers were not wearing safety helmets. The Namibian workers said they must pay for their own safety equipment–for example, $3.65 for a helmet, $1.20 for gloves and $9.75 for overalls. “It’s not a nice place,” said another worker.

Recurring problems among Chinese employers in Africa included low wages, unpaid overtime and a lack of safety equipment such as helmets and gloves. At a construction company in Malawi, workers had to mix cement with their bare hands, the report states. In Ghana, construction workers worked nine to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the report.

Workers for the most part had no contracts and received no benefits, even those required by law. In some countries, women were fired by their Chinese employers if found to be pregnant.

And at some companies, workers were “locked in” during working hours and not allowed to leave the factory even during breaks.

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In Namibia, government and Chinese embassy officials argued that “low wages should be endured as a means towards a prosperous future,” said the report. “Let people be paid lower wages now and attract more FDI (foreign direct investment) and set up manufacturing so that the future generation will reap the benefits of the sacrifices,” a Chinese diplomat told researchers.

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State-owned Chinese firms have made a major push into African countries in recent years, with interests in mining and natural resources extending to investments in infrastructure such as roads and railways. China is now Africa’s biggest trading partner.

Chinese construction companies have also reaped the benefits of the boom, securing contracts for large projects such as soccer stadiums and state residences. Many are built as gifts from the Chinese government.

In terms of infrastructure, China has a lot to offer African countries, Jauch said. “But African workers are going back to the same horrific working conditions that their fathers suffered under colonial rule.”

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