Workers in the Chinese textile and garment sector are pressed hard to meet productivity goals and quality standards. Often, they are paid wages that are not enough to make ends meet, have to work long hours, suffer from physical pain, and need to endure psychological stress. The Covid-19 outbreak certainly worsened the situation. Yet there is very little information available to compile a comprehensive picture of the situation. The dearth of independent insights into workers working and living conditions is a severe drawback for effective human rights due diligence. The purpose of this report is to help fill the information gap with a systematic risk assessment that can guide non-governmental organisations, public authorities, and corporations in their advocacy and remediation work.
For this report, we collected online available information about grievances and labour rights violations in the textile and garment sector in China. Information comes from workers’ posts in online forums, online legal advice portals, and online government complaint forums. We extracted about 1.16 million posts and analysed them through our platform Social@risk™ (see https://www.globalworks.se for further information). The results are structured in line with the Better Work Global Compliance Assessment Tool.
The assessment can be used to facilitate human rights due diligence as proposed in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The analysis provides information on:
We identify six potential fields of engagement:
Child labour: The risk of child labour is particularly high for poor families with an ethnic minority background. Risk for child labour in China is highest for school dropouts between ages 15 and 17.
Discrimination: Human rights violations are not necessarily applied uniformly. The groups most vulnerable to abuse are registered poor workers, ethnic minority workers, vocational school students, retired workers, dispatch workers, and female workers. We also find that the type of rights violations varies between large and small enterprises, as well as between Western, Central, and East Coast Provinces.
Resignations: There are various management practices such as queuing schemes, quotas, and penalties that deprive workers of their right to resign after one-month prior notice.
Freedom of association: Workers’ right to independently organise their rights and interests is systematically repressed in factories as well as on the Internet. Oppression has increased in recent years and, as a result, the number of strikes and workers involved in collective action is declining steadily.
Living wage: Workers’ pay for a regular working week are 2-2.5 times below a living wage. Even after including overtime, bonuses, and subsidies, between 20 and 60 percent of workers do not earn enough for a decent living.
Informalisation: The Covid-19 Pandemic increased workers’ risk to end up in informal labour relations, i.e. they do not have a legally binding contract or they are not registered for social insurance.
Safety and health: Workers report on a series of physical pains such as stomach pain, waste pain, feet pain, leg and hand pain, back pain, and skin diseases. They also write about psychological stress and related symptoms in particular insomnia and depression.
Working time Excessive working hours remain a serious and widespread problem. Social media posts confirm that workers frequently don’t receive premium rates when they work overtime.