China: behind the hype workers are suffering

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date: 7 December 2005

embargo: Noon Friday 9 December 2005

Beneath the hype of China's economic 'miracle' 700 million people are living on less than a dollar a day, according to a report published today (Friday) by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to coincide with International Human Rights Day.

The report - Whose Miracle? How China's workers are paying the price for its economic boom ' - also reveals that more than 15,000 Chinese people are killed every year at work and millions work for 60 - 70 hours a week for less than the country's minimum wage.

The report says that the gap between the best and worst-off in China is growing and states that there are as many recently unemployed people in China as there are in the rest of the world put together.

' Whose Miracle? has been published to debunk the myth that everyone is a winner as China makes the transition from a slumbering rural economy to a manufacturing powerhouse.

Released just prior to the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial meeting, the report documents how China's economic success has been achieved at the expense of most of its people, the majority of whom are facing deeper poverty and further exploitation. China's rise in inequality is growing at a record pace and the country's deeper integration into the WTO risks deepening divisions between its people, says the report.

'Most people seem to have been too blinded by China's economic results to see the dark side. Domestic concerns, such as their own trade deficits and the jobs they might lose from cheap Chinese imports, have overshadowed any doubts the international community may have about exactly how Chinese companies are able to produce DVD players that sell for less than US $50.

'This report sheds light on China's success to reveal it is predominantly based on the repression and exploitation of its vast army of workers', Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the ICFTU said today.

'Whilst growth has rocketed and exports have boomed, so have the levels of inequality and the number of newly unemployed. The exploitation and suppression of the country's workforce has resulted in growing social unrest, placing a time bomb under its future prosperity.

'If they were aware of the international limelight China's rulers are basking in, most of China's population would ask, 'what miracle?'. For the workers toiling in the engine room of the so-called miracle, its unjust reality is more like a nightmare than a dream,' Ryder continued.

Brendan Barber , TUC General Secretary, who is attending the WTO in Hong as part of the official UK delegation, said:

"China has become one of the world's leading exporters because its workers are among the worst exploited in the world. A further deepening of China's involvement in the WTO regardless sends a signal to developing countries that the best way to compete in a global trade system is at the expense of quality jobs and workers' rights.'

To arrange media interviews with Brendan Barber in Hong Kong please contact Ben Hurley on 00447881622416.

The main findings of the report reveal that:

  • China is still sweat-shopping its way to success, basing its competitiveness on low wages and the exploitation of a workforce which has no effective means of representation.
  • China might have as many newly unemployed people as the rest of the world together and will have to create up to 300 million new jobs in the next decade to keep unemployment from rising to unsustainable levels.
  • China's successful poverty eradication in the early 1980s has stagnated since the 1990s. This risks worsening further with the country's deeper integration into the WTO. So far there has been no positive correlation between purely increasing international trade and poverty eradication, since the earlier efforts predated China's export expansion.
  • China is trading its way to the top of the ranks of the world's exporters but along the way is also trading in the progress of its people, a majority of whom stand to lose from further trade liberalisation. More than three-quarters of rural households, which still make up the majority of Chinese, are predicted to lose real income in the period between 2001-07.
  • China is experiencing a surge in inequality, creating not one country and one people but winners and losers, through wide divisions in living standards within and between cities and provinces. The differences between the richest and poorest parts of the country are more than tenfold and an increasing number of rural migrants live as illegal aliens in their own country.
  • China's rulers find themselves trapped in a Catch-22 situation, trying to keep social control by denying workers the freedom to organise in independent trade unions, yet fuelling social unrest and disorder through crackdowns on those who speak out against the status quo resulting in arrest and imprisonment. Statistics on labour issues such as employment and collective workers' protests are state secrets and independent workers' action is handled as a threat to national security and the interests of the state. However, this approach does nothing but spur on the anti-authoritarianism and anger they wish to prevent.
  • Launched on the eve of International Human Rights Day, this report is also a reminder that workers' rights are human rights and that they are constantly violated in China and other developing countries desperate to compete for global trade.

Guy Ryder General Secretary of the ICFTU said:

'China's workers are deprived of any basic means of authentic representation. They have been robbed of the right to organise in independent unions and thus left as wounded prey for investors wanting to squeeze out more work for less pay.

'China might be on the path to full integration in the world economy but it is still far from the road to democracy. As China becomes further integrated into global trade, increased focus must be put on respect for basic human, social and political rights. As long as it fails to do so, the country won't be achieving miracles for its people.'


A press conference to release the report will be held in front of the Chinese Government Offices in Hong Kong at 11.30am (Hong Kong time) on Friday 9 December just prior to the start of the WTO meeting. Full address: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China , 42 Kennedy Road (Mid levels), Hong Kong

Speakers at the press conference:

- Janek Kuczkiewicz, Director, Trade Union Rights, ICFTU

- Lee Chuek-yan, General Secretary, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

- Workers from mainland China (TBC)

If you require more information please contact Andrea Maksimovic on +32 476 621 018 or Ben Hurley on 00447881622416.

The ICFTU's website Workers' Voice @ WTO will provide daily updates of trade union movement activities and responses to the Ministerial meeting. Go to for the international trade union movement's perspective on all things WTO. For further information and to arrange interviews, please contact Andrea Maksimovic on +32 476 621 018.

The ICFTU represents 145 million workers through its 234 affiliated organisations in 154 countries and territories. The ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions.

- All TUC press releases can be found at

Contacts: Media enquiries: Ben Hurley T: 020 7467 1248; M: 07881 622416 ; E: [email protected]

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