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This allegation is nothing new where Chinese workers are concerned. It is known that when it comes to overseas projects, Chinese companies have the common practice of hiring few, if any, local workers and import most of their workers, some of whom could be Chinese convicts released on parole to do overseas work. The workers are usually housed close to the worksite, so that if they were to escape, they could be easily located in a foreign land. In the case of the Guyana Marriott Hotel project, the Chinese eat, sleep and work at the Kingston, Georgetown site.
There has always been speculation of the various ways China uses to ease its prison population, from sending them off to developing countries to work, and executing some.
Amnesty International has reported that in 2007, China secretly executed over 20 prisoners every day. There are reports that hundreds, if not thousands of Chinese convicts were sent to work on projects in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
THE HINDU | …the possible use of convict labour by Chinese firms in Sri Lanka has already stirred debate. Opposition politicians claimed in June that 25,000 Chinese convict labourers were working on the island. The debate even spread to Tamil Nadu, where AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa called on New Delhi to look into the matter, suggesting there was a possible security threat to India.
Mr. Chellaney said Opposition parties in several countries in Africa and in Papua New Guinea had voiced concerns at the presence of Chinese workers with criminal records.
THE GUARDIAN UK | Thousands of Chinese convicts, for example, have been pressed into service on projects undertaken by state-run Chinese companies in Sri Lanka, a strategically important country for China as it seeks to enhance its regional position in the Indian Ocean. After providing Sri Lanka’s government with offensive weapon systems that helped end the country’s decades-long civil war, China has been rewarded with port-building, railroad, and other infrastructure projects.
Chinese convicts also have been dispatched to the Maldives, where the Chinese government is building 4,000 houses on several different islands as a government-to-government “gift” to win influence. So far, however, China has failed to persuade the country’s president to lease it one of the 700 uninhabited Maldivian islands for use as a small base for the Chinese navy.
To the Editor:
China’s exploitation of prison labor to make low-cost products for export to the United States and other countries, as discussed by Orville Schell (Op-Ed, April 27), is only part of the story. The Chinese not only export goods made by prison labor, but they export prison workers too.
While living in West Africa a few years ago, I learned of the case of a Chinese construction company building a road in Benin using prison labor. Seventy percent to 75 percent of the construction workers were known to be prisoners. They were laboring on the Dassa-Parakou road in central Benin under a broiling sun and exposed to malaria and other tropical diseases. The company was the Jiangsu Construction Company, which also built a sports stadium in Cotonou, Benin’s capital, and won a $3.5 million contract to build a hospital and mosque in Porto Novo. The company was able to underbid all its competitors by a wide margin because its labor costs were so cheap.
Each year, thousands of Chinese laborers are sent to Africa and other third-world countries to build roads and work on construction projects. Governments should insure that prison labor is specifically banned before they sign any contracts with Chinese companies. Exploitation of prison labor is an abuse of human rights and of commercial practice.
It certainly has long been known that China has a gulag in which, it is estimated, hundreds of thousands, even millions, toil. The horror of this, however, has not really registered internationally. Until such time as China brings its human rights and trade practices into line with elementary norms of international conduct, it does not deserve most favored nation treatment or any other indulgence from the United States Government.
Washington, April 29, 1991
The writer, a trustees of the International League for Human Rights, was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights in the Carter Administration.
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