Chinese firm in Angola slams report on 'slavery'

Updated 2017-09-05 09:00:50 Global Times

Report makes 'unfair generalization' of Chinese firms: expert

A Chinese company said a Voice of America report which claims the company treats workers like "slaves" is untrue and distorted, and researchers quoted by the U.S. government-funded news organization also say its report is partial.

VOA ran a story on its Chinese website about the "unfair treatment" of Chinese workers in Africa on August 24. The report said Chinese worker Li Dong (pseudonym), who works for a Chinese State-owned enterprise engaged in energy and construction in Angola, said the company treated them like slaves.

This Chinese company is a top 500 global enterprise and entered Angola in 2005. In a statement sent to the Global Times on Monday, the company said "VOA's report contains a lot of untrue and distorted information and has data errors, which has had a negative impact on our company."

Nevertheless, the company began an overhaul at the request of the Chinese Embassy in Angola to avoid any legal disputes or illegal labor practices. The company requested anonymity.

The "unfair treatment" of workers in VOA's report included delayed wages, restricted personal freedom and harsh overtime work. The report was called, "The Belt and Road workers' interview: we have been sold to Africa like 'piggy.'" "Piggy" originally referred to Chinese workers who had been deceived into working overseas and enslaved by Western colonizers in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The company denied being behind in wages. "Some employees failed to receive their wages on time because the company's Angolan partners were delinquent in paying for the project."

On personal freedom, the company said, "Due to the unstable and insecure local environment, the company suggests employees reduce unnecessary trips outside the company and stay in the camp. The camp has facilities like a football field and basketball courts as well as a sports center to make employees feel comfortable."

Yin Yiqiao, Future Group Stock Corporation Limited president, a privately owned Chinese company which has been doing business in Africa for 20 years, told the Global Times that "Due to the impact of the international financial crisis in 2008, Angola's government has defaulted on payments. Some Chinese companies could not be paid on time, and this had caused labor disputes in the past few years." He said the situation has improved. Chinese companies have been under heavy pressure and tried their best to make sure their employees get paid properly, or they would leave.

Cherry picking

VOA's report also mentioned Chinese companies in other African countries, and said that "some labor problems of Chinese companies have been transferred to Africa."

The story quoted data from "an academic report from the Institute of African Studies of Zhejiang Normal University" saying that "55 percent of Chinese firms cannot meet the standard working hours in Africa."

The State-owned Chinese company said "due to the requirements, we request workers to do overtime work, but they all have days off and extra holidays to return to China."

The academic report's author, Liu Qinghai, an IAS research fellow and a PhD of Zhejiang Normal University, told the Global Times that "VOA's report only quotes a small part of my report, but if you read the whole report you will find that Chinese companies provide greater benefits in Africa."

"For instance, my report also said 85 percent of Chinese companies offer skills training for local workers, and some Chinese companies have localized. Seventy-five percent of rank-and-file workers and 33 percent of managers at Chinese companies are African, which means Chinese companies provide huge job opportunities for the locals," Liu said.

"The problem with VOA's report is that it focuses on one case and concludes it's a problem of all Chinese companies in Africa. The fact is Chinese employees in Africa are treated well and are mostly managers and technical staff. Most Chinese companies in Africa will not employ too many Chinese because it costs more to hire people from China to work in Africa," Yin said.

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