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World News

China orders crackdown after slave labor scandal

BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing has ordered provincial governments to begin a promised nationwide crackdown on forced labor in China, sparked by outrage over reports hundreds of farmers and children were enslaved in rural brick kilns.

A slave worker (R), who was later rescued by local authorities, is pictured at a brick kiln in China's Henan province June 16, 2007. Beijing has ordered provincial governments to begin a promised nationwide crackdown on forced labor in China, sparked by outrage over reports hundreds of farmers and children were enslaved in rural brick kilns. REUTERS/Stringer

Chinese media exposed earlier this month that up to 1,000 farmers, teenagers and children were forced or cheated into exhausting, often unpaid work in brick kilns in the northern province of Shanxi.

Many of the workers endured beatings, some fatal, according to the reports.

The snowballing scandal has led to weeks of media coverage and online discussions, including calls for officials to resign for dereliction of duty or even collusion. Authorities have arrested some owners and operators of the prison-like kilns and are searching for others.

The State Council, or cabinet, has ordered provincial governments to launch a two-month inspection campaign, targeting small brickworks, mines and other rural work sites for labor rights breaches, the central government said in a notice.

Authorities should crack down on forced labor, child labor and mayhem in the work sites, according to the notice posted on the government Web site (www.gov.cn) on Wednesday.

Any victims should be given salaries that have been withheld from them, and sent back home with government help, while those responsible should be punished by the justice system, the notice said.

Inspections should also include labor contracts, wages, working hours, working conditions, safety measures and social security, it said.

The licenses of the work sites should be checked and those without proper documents shut down, it said, adding the provinces should report their work to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security on August 31.

So far Shanxi police have rescued 359 workers from the scorching brickworks, including 12 children and nine whose ages were still being checked.

About half the victims, some of whom were mentally impaired, were coerced to work at the kilns, and the others were “cheated”, officials said.

Shanxi police had detained 35 people for involvement in the abuses and this week promised cash rewards for detention of another eight thugs sought for their role in the brickworks.

The Southern Metropolis Daily, a newspaper based in the southern city of Guangzhou, on Wednesday warned of the danger of dwindling media and public attention to the victims.

“Where are the hundreds of children still missing? How many freed workers have actually returned home? Have the human traffickers been punished?... The real resolution of the issue is much more complex than the frequent political statements (by officials),” the newspaper asked in an editorial.

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