Teng Biao, a Chinese human rights lawyer who moved to the United States after being harassed by the Chinese authorities, has criticized China’s coercion of foreigners to bend to its point of view.
Aaron Halegua, research fellow at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University, said that cross-provincial labor actions such as this past weekend’s strike have become increasingly common in recent years, with social media making it easier for them to spread “before they are squelched.” In addition to food delivery workers, other strikes in recent months have involved tower crane operators and van drivers.
Activists, journalists and critics of Chinese leadership and authority tell stories of surveillance and threats abroad.
Jerome A. Cohen was quoted in this article. Read an excerpt below.
China’s Communist Party instituted term limits after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, to ensure that a future Chinese leader wouldn’t rule for life and cement the kind of cult of personality Mao had. Those term limits—up to two consecutive five-year terms—have endured through the reigns of Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. But now, in the reign of Xi Jinping, they may be on their way out.
On March 5, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor announced settlements with four Chinese contractors for $14 million and involving over 2,400 workers who built the Imperial Pacific casino in Saipan. These workers paid $6,000 or more to labor brokers in China, incurring significant debts with high interest rates, based on false promises of high-paying jobs in the United States. Instead, upon arriving in Saipan, the workers were stripped of their passports, forced to work long hours under dangerous conditions, and paid below minimum wage.
The government of Japan granted the NYU School of Law U.S.-Asia Law Institute $5 million earlier this month to advance education in comparative and international law so as to further the engagement between the United States and Asia when it comes to solving legal conflicts.
USALI Affliated Scholar Aaron Halegua's report on the enforcement of labor rights and access to justice for workers in China is extensively cited in the 2017 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
NYU Law Professor Cynthia Estlund's new book "A New Deal for China's Workers" (Harvard University Press, 2017) was reviewed in The China Journal, No. 79 by Anita Chan of Australian National University. Read the entire review here.
Based on the reported details of the situation, it is unlikely that the three UCLA basketball players who were arrested in China this week will face severe punishment, three professors who specialize in Chinese law told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.
Whether in the breathless years of double-digit economic growth or today’s more languid era, one constant in China has been the poor state of workers’ rights and the frequent outbreaks of labour unrest. From coalminers in the snowy north-east to factory staff in the steamy Pearl River Delta, workers have agitated against low pay, wage arrears, unsafe conditions and job losses. A law on labour contracts that took effect in 2008 aimed to keep Chinese hard-hats happier, and on paper it should have succeeded. Indeed, the worldwide ranking of employment-protection laws by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a rich-country think-tank, puts China near the very top of the tables on several indicators.
Affiliated Scholar Margaret K. Lewis of Seton Hall University was interviewed by CFR about human trafficing in China.
The latest U.S. State Department report on human trafficking was notable for its harsh assessment of China’s performance and the country’s downgrade to the world’s lowest tier of ranking. This change in tone regarding human rights in China by President Donald J. Trump’s administration could complicate relations, says Margaret K. Lewis, professor of law at Seton Hall University, in a written interview. Lewis says human trafficking and forced labor are likely to remain significant problems in a society where overall human rights are under steady assault by the Chinese government. China’s leadership, she says, has chosen to decisively silence voices who advocate for the protection of human rights, which are perceived as threats to the ruling communist party.
What is the state of human trafficking, including forced labor, in China?
Deeply troubling. China remains both a country of origin and destination for cross-border human trafficking. Credible reports paint an alarming picture including forced labor, particularly among drug addicts and ethnic minorities, and repatriation of North Koreans to grim fates. There are also concerns regarding the seriousness with which the government is investigating and prosecuting sex and labor traffickers. China needs to revise its domestic laws to bring them in line with international standards and then implement those laws robustly so that they are not mere paper tigers.
The opacity of China’s criminal-justice system and government makes it difficult to define precisely the scope of the problem. Among the recommendations in the State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report are a call for greater transparency of Chinese government efforts to combat trafficking and better data sharing. Reports that some officials facilitate or are even complicit in trafficking heighten concerns.
How does China respond to such naming-and-shaming reports?
The current Chinese leadership has vigorously refuted all international criticism of its human rights record. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to the 2017 TIP Report by stating that China is “firmly opposed to the irresponsible remarks made by the United States based on its domestic law about others’ efforts against human trafficking.”
The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which Congress first passed into law in 2000, mandates the tiered classifications and is a domestic law. But the fundamental standards by which China is being judged are those of international law to which China, as a sovereign state, has largely voluntarily committed itself.
China is a party to critical international agreements concerning human trafficking. The United States is not asking China to adopt its domestic laws. It is calling on China to live up to international standards.
On June 30, 2017 Aaron Halegua was featured on Voice of America to discuss the ongoing riots in Saipan.
The Chinese Labor Activist Who Wants Ivanka Trump to ‘Take Responsibility’
When Ivanka Trump announced in March she would take a job at the White House advising her father, labor-rights advocate Li Qiang had found his highest-profile target yet.
By homing in on factories that supply Ivanka Trump-branded products, the founder of New York-based China Labor Watch thought the daughter of newly elected President Donald Trump could become a potent illustration of the problems facing Chinese workers like those employed by one of her suppliers -- whom he said are often overworked, underpaid and unprotected.
Li’s group had begun to look for possible Ivanka Trump suppliers the previous June when her father was campaigning for the presidency. By the time Ivanka Trump made her announcement, Li’s group had spoken to more than 100 workers around China to identify Huajian Group, which supplied Ivanka Trump shoes under license to Marc Fisher Footwear.
In March, Li sent investigators to what he said turned out to be one of the worst facilities among more than 600 his group has probed, with some employees working 18 hours, six days a week, for about a dollar an hour. Management also fined workers for being late or calling in sick, Li said.
He wrote to Ivanka Trump personally in April, urging her to take action in a letter sent to the White House. A month later, Li lost contact with the three investigators. They had been held by police, the first time in the group’s 17 years that its activists had faced criminal detention.
“I feel a bit lost,” said Li, 45. “It’s hard to understand why the Chinese government wanted to lock them up.”
Though the Huajian factory in the southeastern province of Jiangxi makes shoes for other well-known companies, Li said he focused on Ivanka Trump’s brand because he believes her actions could force changes in labor conditions in China and pave the way for other brands to seek improvements. Li said he is not seeking responses from Huajian or Marc Fisher about his findings as he wants Trump “to take responsibility.”
From a 500-square-foot office near Herald Square, Li seeks out labor abuses in the country he fled two decades ago. He sends contractors, activists and sometimes volunteers to get production-line jobs, where they interview workers, take pictures and videos. Li’s group has documented child labor, inadequate safety training, excessive overtime, poor living conditions, fines for tardiness and late wages.
“Having an independent party to investigate factory conditions is invaluable,” said Aaron Halegua, a consultant on labor issues and research fellow at New York University’s School of Law. “Otherwise, there’s often no way to corroborate or challenge the claims that brands make about their supply chain.”
The group has had major successes. Violations at Apple Inc. supplier Pegatron Corp. led the tech giant to work with the manufacturer to improve factory conditions. Samsung Electronics Co. reviewed some of its Chinese factories after abuses at suppliers were exposed.
In China Labor Watch’s latest case, Huajian denied that employees were underpaid or forced to work excessive hours. “Western media have been misled by China Labor Watch,” which has “undertaken illegal actions in China to gain twisted information, in order to profit,” the company said in a statement.
Li said his group does not seek to profit from any of its probes, including the Ivanka Trump-related investigations.
“Our goal was to use the information to expose labor abuses at the factory,” Li said. “Huajian has twisted the fact and tried to hide the truth of the breaches.”
Shanya Perera, spokeswoman for Marc Fisher, declined to comment. Abigail Klem, the Ivanka Trump brand president, has said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg News that its licensed products haven’t been produced at the factory since March, and that licensees are “required to operate within strict social compliance regulations.” A spokeswoman for Ivanka Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Aaron Halegua, a research fellow at USALI, appeared on Voice of America's Mandarin television news program to discuss labor conditions involving Chinese construction workers in Saipan. The interview was part of the May 16, 2017 news broadcast. The plight of these workers has received a significant amount of recent media attention, including a May 4 story by the New York Times.
April 21, 2017
USALI Faculty Adviser Cynthia Estlund was featured by ChinaFile regarding her new book, "A New Deal for China's Workers?" published in January 2017 through Harvard University Press.
Read and watch at ChinaFile.com
China’s labor landscape is changing, and it is transforming the global economy in ways that we cannot afford to ignore. Once-silent workers have found their voice, organizing momentous protests, such as the 2010 Honda strikes, and demanding a better deal. China’s leaders have responded not only with repression but with reforms. Are China’s workers on the verge of a breakthrough in industrial relations and labor law reminiscent of the American New Deal?
In A New Deal for China’s Workers? Cynthia Estlund views this changing landscape through the comparative lens of America’s twentieth-century experience with industrial unrest. China’s leaders hope to replicate the widely shared prosperity, political legitimacy, and stability that flowed from America’s New Deal, but they are irrevocably opposed to the independent trade unions and mass mobilization that were central to bringing it about. Estlund argues that the specter of an independent labor movement, seen as an existential threat to China’s one-party regime, is both driving and constraining every facet of its response to restless workers.
China’s leaders draw on an increasingly sophisticated toolkit in their effort to contain worker activism. The result is a surprising mix of repression and concession, confrontation and cooptation, flaws and functionality, rigidity and pragmatism. If China’s laborers achieve a New Deal, it will be a New Deal with Chinese characteristics, very unlike what workers in the West achieved in the last century. Estlund’s sharp observations and crisp comparative analysis make China’s labor unrest and reform legible to Western readers. —Harvard University Press
NYU Law Professor and USALI Director Jerome A. Cohen was quoted in this Bloomberg article.
"China’s parliament -- never known for its independence -- saw dissenting votes sink to their lowest level in more than a decade as President Xi Jinping demands greater loyalty ahead of a crucial party reshuffle.
Only 14 of the 2,838 lawmakers who turned up Wednesday for the closing session of the National People’s Congress voted against approving the annual report on the government’s performance and targets for the coming year. That compares with the 101 dissenting votes cast in 2013, the final report presented under Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.
Other reports introduced by the supreme court, state prosecutors and the legislature all received fewer “no” votes than at any point since at least 2006. Earlier data was only sporadically available in Chinese media reports, which failed to provide a breakdown of votes in some years.
The results show how successfully Xi has curtailed public dissent as he prepares for a Communist Party gathering later this year to reshuffle much of the country’s top leadership. Xi has sought to avoid any drama before the twice-a-decade event as he seeks to win backing for his economic reform plans and secure lasting political influence.
“Since Xi Jinping’s ascendance and particularly today, it is clear that the party has brought the legislature to heel,” said Jerome Cohen, a New York University School of Law professor who has been studying China’s legal system since the 1960s. “The annual voting records provide an unusually clear symbol of what has taken place politically, just as the numbers in environmental smog reports clearly delineate increasing pollution.”"
In his second trip to the United States since stepping down as president of Taiwan in May 2016, Ma Ying-jeou LLM ’76 visited NYU Law and spoke with Professor of Law Jerome Cohen, holding forth on topics including the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands and the challenges of bipartisanship in Taiwan. Co-sponsored by the Asia Law Society and the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, the event was very popular and featured a dynamic discussion.
December 5, 2016
On Friday, Donald Trump shocked the China-watching world when news broke that he had spoken on the phone to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. The call was remarkable not for its content—Tsai’s office said she told Trump she hoped the United States “would continue to support more opportunities for Taiwan to participate in international issues.” Rather, it was the way in which the call, by implicitly recognizing Tsai as a head of state, seemed to presage a radically different Taiwan policy. Is this beneficial for U.S. interests, for Taiwan, and for global stability? —The Editors
Much of the American and international commentary on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has focused on whether it was a strategic move or a foolish gaffe and its potential repercussions for U.S.-China relations.
It is crucial to understand not just the perspectives of Washington and Beijing but also that of Taipei. To begin with, although de jure independence would be desirable to many in the Republic of China on Taiwan, which already enjoys de facto independence, the Taiwan government is not seeking to declare independence for the obvious reason—the near certainty that Beijing would fire missiles against the island. Many Taiwanese are pragmatic in thinking about their country’s future and do not favor provoking a war. This point seems to be lost, however, on some Western media commentators who unnecessarily caution America not to recognize Taiwan as an independent state.
What Taipei seeks, at least in the foreseeable future, is to deepen its relations with the U.S. (and with other states and international organizations generally) in a functional, meaningful way. This is a reasonable, and in fact modest, goal. Contact between Taiwan’s democratically elected leaders and their counterparts in countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan has long been severely suppressed as a result of Beijing’s pressures. Taiwan’s leaders have to maneuver even for brief “transit” stops in the U.S. to conduct very limited direct exchanges with merely a few Congressmen and analysts.
Yet, effective exchanges between Taipei and other states and international organizations are important not only to Taipei but also to those that want to cooperate with Taiwan in political, economic, social, and cultural realms. The U.S., while not formally recognizing Taiwan, must find ways to conduct regular, high-level discussion with the Taiwan government for their mutual benefit. Such practice is not without precedent. From 1955 to 1970, Washington and Beijing held a series of ambassadorial-level talks in Geneva and Warsaw regarding the repatriation of nationals even though the two sides then had no diplomatic relations. (I thank Jerome A. Cohen for this point.)
Similar innovative efforts should be considered with regard to Taiwan. For example, the proposed Taiwan Travel Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last September rightly points out that it should be the U.S. policy 1. to permit high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the U.S. and to meet with U.S. officials and 2. to permit the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office—Taiwan’s de facto embassy—to conduct official business in the U.S. More support is needed, as a similar bill in 2013 failed. In an encouraging step, the U.S. House on Friday passed a bill that for the first time authorizes senior U.S.-Taiwan military exchanges.
More broadly, Taiwan, with its vibrant civil society, has much to contribute to global governance in an increasingly interconnected world. However, Taiwan’s outreach has long been hampered by China’s campaigns to pressure other countries and international organizations not to allow Taiwan’s participation. Examples abound. Just last month, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) rejected Taiwan’s first application in 32 years to attend Interpol’s annual meeting as an observer, although Taiwan can and should play a significant role in the global fight against transnational crime with its able law enforcement forces and advanced information technology. A few weeks later, a Taiwanese NGO dedicated to the research of rare diseases, which had been invited to take part in a U.N.-affiliated meeting, was not even permitted to enter the U.N. building.
One positive thing that might come out of the fuss over the Trump-Tsai call would be much greater public attention to the predicament confronted by Taiwan and to the urgency of updating U.S. policy to expand communication with Taiwan and, more broadly, expanding Taiwan’s well-deserved participation in global affairs.
I do not know if Mr. Trump has read Analects, but if Confucius had a Twitter account, he might caution the president-elect that “Going too far is as bad as not going far enough” (過猶不及, guòyóubùjí). “Recalibrate,” as used in the prompt for this ChinaFile conversation, suggests a careful adjustment, not a rash, radical departure from current practice. While the start of a new administration is a fitting time to reassess the status quo of U.S. policy towards Taiwan, the perils of impetuous action far outweigh any potential benefits of hastily shaking things up.
I join Ms. Chen, above, in welcoming the U.S. government to consider “innovative efforts” with respect to policy towards Taiwan. But any such creative efforts require space to incubate and would be undermined, if not demolished, by a Twitter-based foreign policy.
A thoughtful recalibration of U.S. policy requires not only time but also people who are knowledgeable about Taiwan. One consequence of China’s opening to the world has been that many younger American scholars obtain language training in the mainland instead of Taiwan (myself among them). This has tremendous benefits in terms of American understanding of the People’s Republic of China; it has, however, diverted American students from Taiwan. This is a mistake. The most knowledgeable American experts on Taiwan come from the generation that often spent significant time living in Taiwan as they honed their language skills.
The flurry of interest in Taiwan over the past few days has brought into sharp relief how necessary it is for the U.S. to maintain a deep bench of Taiwan experts. Hopefully a silver lining of the kerfuffle over “The Call” (and here’s hoping that history will prove this episode to be a mere passing fuss) will be a renewed interest in academic exchanges and research projects involving Taiwan.
The Chinese government doesn’t want labor groups organizing workers to fight for their rights.
November 10, 2016 — 5:00 PM EST
Hong Kong activists calling for the the release of Meng Han. Source: China Labour Bulletin
Panyu, a district spotted with factories and half-finished real estate developments, is largely indistinguishable from the rest of the Pearl River Delta, China’s biggest export manufacturing hub. Until recently, though, it was recognized widely by China’s migrant workers as the home of the country’s most active independent labor rights group, the Panyu Migrant Workers’ Center, which has helped thousands of workers in their disputes with factory managers.
On Nov. 3 in the Panyu District People’s Court, China’s authorities took the latest step in crippling the growing labor movement. Meng Han, a former hospital guard turned activist at the Panyu Center, pleaded guilty to disturbing public order by inciting workers to strike. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Meng, who many had thought would dispute the charges, faced sleep deprivation and harsh interrogation at first, during the almost 12 months he’s been held already, says Han Dongfang, founder of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, a workers’ advocacy organization. Meng’s parents had to move from their apartment after unidentified thugs defaced their door with axes, Han says.
Three of Meng’s colleagues at the Panyu Center, including director Zeng Feiyang, pleaded guilty to similar charges in September and were given deferred sentences. Zeng, who’s married, was also accused in state media of having at least eight girlfriends and sending sex videos to others. “They are trying to intimidate us,” says Zhang Zhiru, who heads the Shenzhen-based Chunfeng Labor Dispute Service Center.
Scaring labor activists into submission is part of the leadership’s strategy to tame unruly migrant workers. Increasingly educated and internet-savvy, these workers have taken to the streets over unpaid wages and social welfare benefits, as well as unsafe work conditions. The government is also working to supplant independent labor groups by reinvigorating the more than 200 million-strong All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the only state-approved umbrella union. “The Communist Party is trying to get rid of the existing activists that have established social networks and destroy their legitimacy,” says Wang Kan, an expert on Chinese labor activism and a professor at the China Institute of Industrial Relations in Beijing. “They want to get rid of the troublemakers and buy themselves some time” while they reform the official union.
The labor groups have already faced harassment, particularly since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013. Zhang of the Chunfeng Labor Dispute Service Center has had to move his office more than a dozen times since police ordered landlords not to rent to his organization.
Late last year, security officials cracked down on the 110 or so labor rights groups operating in China, focusing on Guangdong province, where about half of them are based. Police interrogated at least 20 individuals who promoted labor rights and detained seven. While three were released, Meng and his colleagues were charged and convicted. “The government doesn’t want workers to organize,” says Duan Yi, a Shenzhen-based labor lawyer whose firm has represented workers involved in more than 100 strikes. The labor environment has become “very, very sensitive.” Duan met a reporter in a coffee shop, saying an interview in his office would draw unwanted attention.
Labor groups including the Panyu Center have been accused in Chinese state media of being manipulated from abroad—often meaning from Hong Kong. “We must earnestly and painstakingly ensure the stability of the trade unions and watch out for infiltration,” Shanghai Federation of Trade Unions head Hong Hao told the state-backed news website ThePaper.cn in July.
On Jan. 1, a new law will make it much harder for Chinese nongovernmental organizations to take money from or work with organizations overseas. Chinese workers’ groups have long had a close association with Hong Kong-based activists, one reason they are suspected by officials. The labor groups played an historic role supporting the Communist Party against the Nationalists in China’s civil war. Officials worry that another party will gain strength by allying itself with worker groups, says Jane Liu, China program manager at Social Accountability International. Beijing has its hands full in Hong Kong, where it won’t allow two elected, pro-independence members of the Legislative Council to be sworn in.
Founded in 1925 as a “transmission belt” (to quote Lenin) to send worker concerns up to the party and party orders down to the factory, the ACFTU has become little more than a social association, holding the annual company Chinese New Year parties and organizing basketball tournaments for workers. When labor disputes arise, the ACFTU is often viewed by labor as siding with management over workers. “Most of what they focus on has nothing to do with what we would think a union does. They have lost their roots,” says Sheila Wong, deputy director of the Guangzhou-based Inno Community Development Organisation, which is helping a local branch of the ACFTU install a worker grievance hotline.
At a top-level meeting in July 2015 on the work of China’s three largest mass organizations—the Communist Youth League, the All-China Women’s Federation, and the ACFTU—Xi harshly criticized the union for not properly carrying out its job, says Wang of the Institute of Industrial Relations. Mass organizations must avoid “being alienated from the people,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported Xi as saying. “They are caught in a very tough place,” says Aaron Halegua, a lawyer and research fellow at New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute who recently wrote about the legal representation of Chinese workers. “On the one hand, the union is supposed to represent workers, but that must be done without actually empowering workers.”
Rebecca McCray, "China's Growing Labor Movement Threatens Beijing," TakePart, March 16, 2016 (quoting Aaron Halegua on the reasons for the rise in strikes and labor unrest in China, including the economic downturn, increased worker consciousness, and the lack of an effective trade union or other means of negotiating between workers and management).
"Government-Sponsored Legal Aid and the Role of Labor NGOs in China: A Story of Displacement?", The Global Transformation of Work: Market Integration, China's Rise, and Labor Adaptation, Rutgers University (March 17, 2016).