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China bans slavery, jumps ahead of US on workers’ rights

THE CHINESE BANNED slavery this week. This puts the country further ahead of the United States in the legal protection of workers.

The world’s most populous country signed up to two more international conventions against forced labor. This means China has now signed up to six out of eight rights declarations protecting workers of all ages, genders and backgrounds.

In contrast, the United States has ratified only two, putting it below most Asian, African and other Western nations.

As capitalism spreads, workers rights need protection. Photo of construction staff in Shanghai by Kin Li on Unsplash

The International Labor Organization congratulated the Chinese on their decision. “The move demonstrates China’s strong support for ILO values and reflects its commitment to protect any female or male workers from being trapped into forced labour practices, which have no place nor justification in today’s world,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

There’s poignancy in the fact that this has occurred at the same time that battles for workers’ rights and unionization have erupted in the United States, particularly around the pay and conditions at Amazon, the on-line store. However, China cannot boast — it is also lagging in rights associated with unionization.

Protest by unions in Reno, Nevada, USA. Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

The ILO encourages countries to sign pledges covering four core principles: forced labour, child labour, discrimination, and freedom of association/ collective bargaining.

China has now agreed to most of them, but is still lagging on the final pair of rights, which deal with collective bargaining. While the country does have powerful trade unions, Chinese legislation does not yet match ILO recommendations in that area.

This week’s declaration means that no type of forced labor will be allowed in China and any cases that emerge has to be promptly dealt with by the authorities.

Washington has long accused China of using cheap prison labor, with the Western media loudly echoing the claim – although the United States itself uses prison labor, in some cases with prisoners receiving minimal or zero pay.

Rights of workers like this gardener at Xixi National Wetland Park, Hangzhou, will be protected. Photo by Maggie Yang on Unsplash

The vast majority of countries worldwide have adopted most ILO principles, although there have been some unusual exceptions. Australia and New Zealand have not signed one of the child labor conventions, and Japan has not signed a discrimination one.

Among countries which have been rejected six or seven of the eight main conventions, are several very small nations, such as the Marshall Islands, Palau, Tonga, Brunei Darussalam and Tuvalu, plus the United States.

The two rival global economic leaders, China and the United States, each have their own challenges. As a developing nation, China has very small, tight budgets to fix worker-related issues. The United States, as the world’s wealthiest country, should be able to fix them far more easily, but is hampered by many laws that protect the rights of employers, given its long and deep commitment to purer forms of capitalism.

The ILO was founded to protect workers rights in 1919, the same year that there was an anti-imperialist uprising in China. Since then, the ILO has campaigned for the fundamental rights of workers worldwide.

The organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, said it was happy with China’s decision, but forced labor remains a problem in many other parts of the world. About 25 million people globally are forced to work under threat or coercion, they estimated.

The recent virus problems are pushing more people into bad situations. “Many other workers, who were hard hit by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, have become more vulnerable to being trapped into forced labour,” the ILO said in a statement.

Image at the top by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

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