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In Africa, Chinese Employers Accused of Abuse

FILE - Employees of the Jiuxing Chinese mining company walk on the mining site Oct. 7, 2016, in Soamahamanina, Madagascar.
In Africa, Chinese Employers Accused of Abuse
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A court in the central African country of Rwanda sentenced Chinese man Sun Shujun to 20 years in jail last month. Sun was found guilty after a video of him whipping a worker spread across the internet.

The case angered many Africans. Following the decision, the Chinese embassy in the Rwandan capital of Kigali made a rare statement. It warned its citizens in Rwanda to follow local laws.

The Business and Human Rights Resource Center released a report on the subject last year. The non-profit, Britain-based group found 181 claims of human rights abuses connected to Chinese investment activities in Africa between 2013 and 2020. Many of the incidents were in Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Last year, a Kenyan worker was awarded more than $25,000 by a court after he was beaten by his Chinese restaurant employer. A Kenyan court found the man had suffered extreme abuse.

There have also been reports of Chinese employers mistreating local people who worked on a Chinese-built railway in Kenya. The Standard newspaper reported about that in 2018.

A man watches a conveyor belt loaded with chunks of raw cobalt after a first transformation at a plant in Lubumbashi, Congo, on Feb. 16, 2018, before being exported, mainly to China, to be refined. (Photo by SAMIR TOUNSI / AFP)
A man watches a conveyor belt loaded with chunks of raw cobalt after a first transformation at a plant in Lubumbashi, Congo, on Feb. 16, 2018, before being exported, mainly to China, to be refined. (Photo by SAMIR TOUNSI / AFP)

The Democratic Republic of Congo is estimated to be rich in mineral resources. The country also has a large number of mines that are operated by Chinese companies. Claims of abuse have also been reported there. A Congolese investigative journalist released a report detailing how small Chinese-owned mines are using child labor.

Josue Kashal is a lawyer from a Congolese non-profit legal assistance group. He represented a local miner who was injured in an accident at a Chinese mine. A court decision ordered the mine to pay the worker’s hospital costs and lost earnings. “There are lots of violations of workers’ rights,” Kashal told VOA.

In Zimbabwe, there also have been reports of abuses by Chinese employers. In 2020, a Chinese employer shot and seriously injured two Zimbabwean workers after a pay dispute at a mine in the town of Gweru. The employer was charged with attempted murder and the case is still being tried.

Shamiso Mtisi is a director of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA). He said “ZELA is aware of several cases of abuse of Zimbabwean workers by Chinese employers, and this happens on a regular basis at some of the Chinese mining companies.” He commented, “I think the problem is they see themselves as superior.”

Mtisi said workers at Chinese-owned mines in the country are paid little and given poor protective equipment. But, he noted, it falls on the Zimbabwean government to enforce workplace rules and protect its citizens. And he says the government is failing to do so because China is the country’s largest foreign investor.

“The challenge is the Chinese appear to be getting some protection either from government or some politicians, so they normally get away with it,” he said.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has pushed China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It provides money for development projects. With it, China has gained influence in Africa. African countries favor China’s loans that do not include human rights requirements.

The Chinese Embassy in Namibia published a guide recently to answer some of these incidents. It included advice on how to deal with pay disputes with local workers, not using firearms to threaten workers, and not “intimidating or coercing” workers through physical abuse. And it advised to always deal with incidents by involving local officials instead of taking things into one’s own hands.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Kate Bartlett reported this story for Voice of America. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

whip – v. to hit (a person or animal) with a whip or with something that is like a whip

award –v. to officially decide someone should get something

journalist –n. someone whose job it is to collect, write or edit stories for newspapers, magazines, television and other media

regular basis –n. doing something systematically so it takes place at a regular time somewhat often

superior –adj. better than others

challenge –n. a difficult problem or issue

intimidate – v. to make (someone) afraid

coerce – v. to make (someone) do something by using force or threats

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