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Labor unrest is on the rise in China, fueled by unpaid wages and mass layoffs amid a sputtering economy. Part of the problem, experts say, is the government’s relatively weak enforcement of labor rights and inadequate access to legal services for aggrieved workers.
In the past decade, China has made considerable progress in legislating new legal protections for workers, expanding their access to arbitration and courts, and paying for more lawyers to represent them. Nonetheless, in China, as elsewhere, labor violations persist and a substantial “representation gap” remains between legal needs and services.
Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that “China has made enormous progress in human rights. That’s a fact recognized by all the people of the world.” The statement is true when viewed against the abuses committed under Mao Zedong. Yet the 2015 UN report on China’s compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment presents a bleak view of the realities in China today.
Foreign NGO employees in China watched in horror last week as a Swedish rights activist went on state television to deliver what colleagues described as a “forced confession”.