Made in China, May-June 2015.
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On the night of June 12 other two young activists, Yang Zhangqing and Guo Bin, were arrested by state security police on charges of “illegal business activity”. Previously they both had worked for Yirenping.

Draft “Overseas NGO Management Law” Released to the Public

Early in May the Chinese authorities published a draft law on the management of foreign NGOs which, if approved in the present form, will deal a fatal blow to Chinese civil society.

On May 5 the National People’s Congress (NPC) released on its official website the complete text of the second draft “Overseas NGO Management Law”, soliciting comments from the public. According to the new rules, the responsibility of registering foreign NGOs will shift from the Ministry of Civil Affairs to the Ministry of Public Security, a step that will make establishing a foreign NGO in China even more difficult that it currently is. Analysts have highlighted several critical issues in the Law, in particular: a) An excessively vague definition of “non-governmental organization”, which would make every kind of foreign non-profit organisation fall into the scope of the Law, including universities, international professional associations, interest groups, etc.; b) An excessive administrative burden, within a dual supervision system that includes not only an official sponsor authorised by the State Council, but also the local branches of the Ministry of Public Security; c) Bureaucratic obstacles to any kind of temporary activity by foreign NGOs in China, even for those organizations without a local office and in emergency situations; d) The impossibility to establish branches in other provinces or localities; e) The insertion of clauses that allow public security organs to enter the foreign NGO's premises anytime to conduct on-site inspections, question the organization’s employees, and remove documents and other materials; f) The provision of serious penalties for Chinese citizens and organizations that receive funding from unregistered foreign NGOs. If enacted in this form, the Law will deal a hard blow not only to foreign NGOs in China, but also to those Chinese organizations that work in sensitive fields as labour rights, which today are almost entirely reliant on foreign funding.

(Sources: National People’s Congress, China Law Translate, China Development Brief)

Four Left-behind Children Commit Suicide Drinking Pesticide

Early in June four children between 13 and 5 committed suicide in one of the poorest areas of the country. They were “left-behind children”, abandoned by their migrant parents.

At 11 pm on June 8 a dying 13 years old boy was found near his house in Cizhu Village, Bijie, Guizhou Province, one of the poorest areas of the country. After arriving on the spot, health workers and local officials found that the boy’s sisters – respectively 5, 8 and 9 years old – were agonising nearby. All children died soon after their arrival at the hospital. They had drunk pesticide to kill themselves. Ensuing investigations revealed that the four victims were “left-behind children”, who had been abandoned by their migrant parents. According to a report released by the provincial authorities of Guizhou, before coming back to live in Bijie in 2011, the family had lived for years in Hainan Province. There, the parents used to beat their children so savagely that on one occasion the arm of the son was dislocated and his ears were torn. After moving back to Bijie, the father left again to look for work, while the mother stayed at home until 2013. After that, the children were completely alone. According to other villagers, the father returned for a couple of weeks in February for the Chinese New Year, while the mother this year has not come back yet. In the month that preceded the tragedy, the children locked themselves in the house and refused to open the door even when their relatives and teachers tried to visit them. These suicides have once again brought to the attention of the public the plight of migrant workers’ “left-behind children”. It is estimated that today in China there are about 61 million children who live in the countryside with their grandparents or other elder relatives while their parents are away for work. Prime Minister Li Keqiang ordered officials across the country to prevent similar situations and solicited “strict punishments and severe consequences” for those local officials who had neglected their duty to provide care for the children. Bijie is not new to this kind of tragedies: in November 2012, five boys died in a trash bin for carbon monoxide poisoning after starting a fire inside a trash bin where they had sought shelter from the cold.

(Sources: Guizhou Minzhengting, Zhongguo Qingnianbao, The New York Times)

Two Anti-discrimination Activists Arrested

On the night of June 12 other two young activists were arrested by state security police on charges of “illegal business activity”. Previously they both had worked for Yirenping.

A few days after the Chinese authorities formally committed to respect an anti-discrimination pledge in their bid to host in Beijing the 2022 Winter Olympics, two anti-discrimination activists were arrested. In the night of June 12, state security police took Yang Zhanqing from his house in Huizhou, Guangdong Province; at the same time, Guo Bin was arrested in a children’s hospital in Shenzhen, where he was taking care of his two years old son, who had recently undergone surgery. The following week, they were transferred to a detention centre in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, on charges of “illegal business activity”. Yang Zhanqing, 38, and Guo Bin, 32, have both previously worked for anti-discrimination group Yirenping, an important Chinese NGO that used to provide legal assistance to victims of discrimination, in particular HB and HIV carriers, disabled people, migrant workers and women. In the past year, Yirenping and other connected organisations have been repeatedly harassed through continuous inspections and occasional detention of their employees and activists. What was probably the highest-profile case took place in March, when five young women activists were arrested while planning to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transport on the International Women’s Day. They were released on bail after more than a month, thanks to a vocal international campaign.

(Sources: Reuters, Radio Free Asia


The Lide Strike

Kevin Lin - University of Technology, Sydney

For eight months the workers at a footwear company in Guangzhou fought to claim their rights while their factory was being relocated. In spite of harassment and occasional violence, thanks to the support of a local NGO they were able to achieve an extraordinary victory. 

Eight months of organizing and three separate strikes later, workers at Lide shoe factory, a foreign-invested enterprise producing leather shoes for international brands, in the industrial Panyu district in Guangzhou celebrated their well-deserved victory on May 16th. In response to the factory’s plan for relocation, workers secured a range of compensations entitled to the 2,500 employees under labour laws, including years of unpaid social insurance and housing fund contributions, but also a lump sum payment of previously non-existent annual leave, maternity leave and heat allowance, as well as severance compensation for those who choose not to relocate to the new facility. 

Strikes and protests sparked by factory relocation are common in this part of China, and workers are increasingly demanding companies to make social insurance and housing fund contributions potentially worth tens of thousands. Lide workers’ struggle began in late 2014. Workers learned through rumours about the company’s plan to relocate to Nansha district, another industrial district in Guangzhou. Production lines and workers were gradually transferred to the new facility. However, management did not discuss any settlement plan with workers. This is not surprising. But what is interesting is that fearing they would face redundancy without compensation, a group of workers approached Panyu Migrant Worker Service Centre in August 2014 to ask for assistance in negotiating with management. 

Panyu Migrant Worker Service Centre is a well-known and long-established labour NGO operating in Guangzhou for close to two decades. Led by a former migrant worker-turned-barefoot-lawyer, it is one of a small number of labour NGOs in China that have gone beyond merely legal and social service provisions, and choose to assist workers in both individual and collective labour disputes. The Centre was to be instrumental in helping workers to elect representatives, drafting agreements and strategizing more broadly. As one of the staff at the Centre involved in the Lide dispute told the media, “our role is as consultant, facilitating labour-capital collective negotiation, providing workers with legal assistance, and helping them organize meetings. We did not play a leading role. Ultimately, it has to depend on the strength of workers’ solidarity.” But for their role, the director and one of the staff at the Centre were to be physically assaulted and harassed first by police then by a group of unidentified men.

Although it should have been a straightforward negotiation, the dispute intensified in November 2014 when management coerced workers to sign a new contract with changed conditions, and threatened sacking those who refuse. Workers promptly rejected the contract and such intimidation. Enraged, a group of workers, who had been elected as workers representatives and who agreed to the strike the night before, initiated a strike first in one workshop that then quickly sparked a factory-wide strike on December 6th 2014. Immediately, workers representatives held a meeting to elect eleven negotiators to participate in a collective negotiation convened by management on the same day.

The meeting reached only a tentative agreement: workers were to resume work the same afternoon, and a new contract would be negotiated. However, the striking workers believing management did not address workers’ core concerns rejected this agreement, and continued their strike in the afternoon. As the Weibo account of the striking workers remarked, “once workers were organized, the balance of force between labour and capital will immediately shift…Lide workers’ organizing and workers’ enormous strength demonstrated in the process reaffirm the great wisdom and consciousness of the Chinese working class. Solidarity forever!” While this was too early a verdict, it did prove to be true in subsequent events.

In the evening, workers’ representatives discussed their response. Indicative of the level of organization, the representatives not only elected a new team of negotiators for the second round of collective negotiation, but also made sure they delegated responsibilities to the three chief negotiators. In addition, the meeting elected three workers to manage the solidarity fund, five workers to publicize the strike on social media, and marshals to manage the picket line. The negotiators then went on to collect workers’ demands and devise a proposal with specific timelines for the coming negotiation.

The next day, on December 7th the workers’ negotiators proposed a comprehensive list of 13 demands, as in accordance to China’s labour laws, during the second round of collective negotiation. These demands mainly focused on unpaid social insurance and housing fund, but also payment for annual leave, maternity leave and heat allowance, as well as a day-off per week for workers, but nothing on wages or union reform. But they are clear about their right to make these demands. The proposal prefaced by saying, “we are all workers of Lide shoe factory, and we have worked at Lide for many years. Although we cannot say we have created endless profit for Lide, the fact that the company can reach today’s achievement is inseparable to our workers’ efforts. The profit and value we have created are far above our meagre wages, but we cannot even fully enjoy social insurance and benefits”. 

Following a heated negotiation, the company made a unilateral announcement, which in broad terms accepted the legitimacy of workers’ demands but did not spell out any specific plan or timeline. In response, the workers’ chief negotiator called an all-staff meeting that produced very detailed demands and timelines and asked management to hold another round of negotiation. The date of December 14th was scheduled for the next negotiation. Meanwhile, as the dispute intensified, workers became more involved and organized. By this stage, more than 1,800 workers had indicated their willingness to defend their rights and contributed 20 Yuan each to the strike’s solidarity fund.

While workers representatives and negotiators were drafting agreement, the company management called its own all-staff meeting and announced their own plan the day before the scheduled third round of negotiation. Management hoped to pre-empt the negotiation and dictate the terms of the agreement. The details of the announcement concerning the timing and amount of payment fell short of workers’ expectation. Workers representatives, after consulting with workers, rejected the company’s unilateral decision. 

Two days later, on December 15th 2014 workers went on strike for the second time to protest the management’s refusal to negotiate. Management tried to block workshop doors to prevent workers from leaving. But workers linked arms and rushed out of the workshops. By early afternoon, the overwhelming majority of the workers took part in the strike. And the strike continued into the following day. Workers walked out of their workshops, gathered in the factory square, shouted slogans like “Bosses do not keep promise; workers demand dignity!” and marched with banners within the factory compound. When some managers took down workers’ banners, a group of workers came directly to their office and demanded immediate apology. Under pressure, management agreed to new negotiation, this time under the supervision of the local union and authorities. Management made a few further concessions and workers’ representatives accepted the agreement that broadly met workers’ demands. While workers were jubilant for their victory, they recognized the difficulty of negotiating the remaining issue: severance compensation, and the implementation of the agreement.

Meanwhile, division among workers representatives appeared. The main negotiators allegedly acted against workers’ interests and secretly negotiated with management, and were demoted by other representatives. And when the remaining representatives and other workers held a meeting in a hotel to discuss strategy and elect new negotiators on April 19th 2015, more than a hundred special duty and assistant police broke into the hotel, bashing and arresting workers. Other workers soon gathered at the local police station, demanding the immediate released of the arrested workers. All were released. 

The following day, April 20th, workers staged a strike for the third time as management failed to implement the agreement of the previous negotiation. This time, the government intervened more forcefully. The county-level Party Secretary supervised the negotiation between management and workers’ negotiators with delegates from the local labour and taxation bureaus and the local branch of the trade union. The strike continued into April 21st. Another negotiation took place in the meeting room of the local county government, and the government signalled that it would move both parties to reach a compromise, largely taking the side of workers. Clearly under government pressure, the general manager of the company agreed to most of the workers’ demands particularly concerning the timing of the payment, which has to be before the factory relocation planned for June 2015. Meanwhile, hundreds of workers took turn to picket the factory at night, so that no finished order could be transported out of the factory.

The next day, on April 22nd 2015 both negotiators and managers addressed to an all-staff assembly in the factory square. Still not satisfied with the timing of the payment and the lack of a written agreement, workers continued the strike and blockade. Finally, in the evening of April 23rd, the company and the county government made a joint announcement that made more concessions to workers’ demands. With the stamps of both parties on the agreement, the negotiating team including a consultant from the Panyu Migrant Worker Service Centre urged workers to accept the agreement, arguing a coordinated return to work was also a show of strength. 

On April 25th, the company made a lump sum payment of housing fund and other compensations directly to workers’ bank accounts, and progress was made about the more complex process of social insurance contributions, which required both workers and company to pay into local taxation bureau. The results are a considerable success for workers. All the compensations paid by the company, according to the calculation of the Panyu Migrant Service Centre, amount to more than 120 million Yuan. This would not have come about without the sustained and highly organized activism. Workers’ collective actions at Lide are exceptional in their sustained organizing over eight months from August 2014 to April 2015. While each of the three strikes is brief in duration, amounting to 11 strike days including six days of factory blockades, called “factory protection” by workers, they were remarkably successful at pressuring management into negotiation and making concessions. Each time management sought to dictate the terms of the agreement by making unilateral announcement, workers pushed back. 

In the process, workers held four rounds of negotiations, two elections of workers representatives, three elections of negotiators, three workers representative meetings, more than 20 consultations among workers representatives and negotiators outside of the factory, and three all-staff meetings. They elected representatives, drawing up demands, mobilizing strikes, and conducting negotiations with management and the local authorities. The intervention of the labour NGO was instrumental in lending experience and strategies. Not surprisingly with such sustained collective action, the government and management harassment and occasional violence were deployed and the threat to the safety of those involved was ever present. But the striking workers and the activists have shown, once organized, such intimidation can be defeated. 



Fainting Workers in Armani's Supply Chain in Cambodia

Joel Preston - Center for the Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL) 

For months, Cambodian NGOs have denounced labour conditions in a garment factory that produces clothes for Armani. Following investigations also found that this supplier was embezzling substantial amounts of money in benefits that were never paid to the workers. Luckily, there is some sign that the situation is going to change soon.

The Cambodian garment industry employs more than 600,000 workers (90% women) in more than 600 registered factories. In 2014, Cambodian garment exports exceeded €5 billion. The EU’s market share continues to grow and is currently more than 40% of garment exports from the Kingdom. According to export data many of the garments destined for the EU are ending up in Italy in the stores of Giorgio Armani, Prada, Conbipel, Calzedonia, Diesel, Champion, Gruppo Benetton and others. 

Despite huge brand and industry profits, Cambodian garment workers’ wages remain incredibly low at only €133 per month. To put this in perspective, the current minimum wage is only €7 above the poverty line in the country’s capital city, Phnom Penh. As such, survey results show that Cambodian garment workers spend only €1.15 per day on food. A staggering 42% of workers suffer from anemia, 16% are underweight and 8% are severely food insecure. 

Despite their health concerns, for 95% of Cambodian garment workers overtime is not exceptional. Most workers are required to complete at least 60 work hours per week. This is made all the more difficult with temperatures in the factories of Italian brands often as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This combination of factors recently came to a head at Armani supplier, Kin Tai Garment Co., Ltd. 

From November 2014 to May 2015, malnourished, tired and hot workers at Kin Garment were losing consciousness during work on a consistent basis (pictured above). Workers had to resort to coining, a traditional method of scratching at the skin, to relieve heat stress and avoid falling unconscious.   

Workers were suffering from long working hours in extreme heat of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but also suffering from a lack of income to buy enough food for themselves and their children. Investigations showed that the Armani supplier was engaging in wage theft – a common practice in Cambodia of stealing seniority bonuses of experienced workers or maternity benefits of pregnant workers and new mothers. Stolen benefits were calculated at more than €35,000.  

Armani had been informed of the excessive heat and wage theft more than a year beforehand, but did nothing to address the temperature in the factory or the payment violations. Only after intervention from Italian partners FEMCA, ISCOS and Fair Coop, did Armani start to acknowledge the issues and pushed the factory to install appropriate cooling systems.    

The stolen benefits of more than €35,000 are still owed and workers will continue their struggle for legal payment from the factory and Armani.   

Kin Tai is only one story of exploitation of Cambodian workers by the suppliers of European and Italian brands. Cambodian unions are fighting back, but they face extreme persecution and violence in their pursuit to organize. Last year, the union president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions at Kin Tai Garment (pictured below leading a strike) was both terminated from her employment as well as arrested for her role in strikes and demonstrations to improve wages and working conditions.  
Throughout the industry unionists continually face discrimination and violence. In the last two years we have received more than 3,500 cases of illegal dismissal, more than 100 cases of violence or serious injury, and more than 50 cases of Cambodian unionists being arrested or summoned to court.

Some of the worst instances of violence against garment workers have occurred in the past year as workers continued nationwide protests calling for the government raise the minimum wage to a mere €157 per month. In January 2014, police and military personnel shot and killed at least four striking workers during a renewed mobilization using live ammunition at an industrial park in Phnom Penh. Those killed by the Cambodian security forces were employed at factories producing clothing for several major multinational corporations exporting to Italy, including Puma and Adidas. An additional 38 people, some of whom work in the Benetton supply chain, were hospitalized during the attack, 25 suffering from bullet wounds, and 23 more were arrested.

Despite the violence and attacks the Cambodian trade union movement continues its struggle for better wages and working conditions and to provide a life with human dignity. We would like to thank our Italian partners for their solidarity and intervention. We hope we can continue the struggle together for workers’ rights in Cambodia, throughout the region and around the world.


Labor Activists and the New Working Class in China: Strike Leaders' Struggles

PARRY P. LEUNG, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, 212 pp.

Labor Activists and the New Working Class in China is an ethnographic work examining an export jewelry industrial district in Pearl River Delta of China. While well known that China is undergoing an unprecedented capitalist transformation, few have noted the new working classes of China are also actively striving to alter their fate through labor struggles. Parry Leung lived for twelve months in the migrant worker dwelling sites, and kept close contact with the strike activists. Leung illuminates how strikes emerge and transform in an authoritarian state, by enhancing our understanding on the informal agency power of strike organizers in labor activism. (Buy on

La Newsletter di ISCOS "Made in China" è un servizio offerto gratuitamente agli iscritti. Il trattamento dei dati avviene ai sensi dell’art.13 del d.lgs 196/03.

This newsletter has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of Iscos and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union. LO-TCO is associate to the project.

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