Silent Victims of Labor Trafficking: China’s Belt and Road workers stranded overseas amid Covid-19 pandemic


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Left: Workers’ signatures and fingerprints on a group petition letter for returning home

Middle: A worker injured his back at work receiving no medical attention, walking with a bucket to support himself

Right: A worker lost an eye after a work-related accident with no medical treatment

Foreword

Since the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrant workers stranded overseas have been unable to return home. In response, China Labor Watch started investigating the situation in July 2020. The data in this report are mainly from our correspondence via instant messaging services, phone calls and emails with nearly 100 Chinese workers in eight Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Online citizen reporters and Chinese volunteers in host countries who are concerned about the rights of Chinese workers abroad were also consulted.

We conducted in-depth interviews with 22 Chinese workers who worked or currently work on various BRI projects located in Indonesia, Algeria, Singapore, Jordan, Pakistan, Serbia and other countries. Among the workers we interviewed, we found widespread rights infringements involving: passport detention, restrictions on freedom of movement, excessive work hours up to 12 hours a day and 7 days a week, zero holiday allowance, unpaid wages, issuance of illegal visas, deceptive recruitment and false promises, isolation from the local community, intimidation and threats, high penalties for quitting, lack of sufficient medical treatment, poor living and working conditions, insufficient labor protection and safety equipments, no reasonable complaint channels or grievance mechanism, restricted freedom of speech, and harsh punishment of workers who protest.

They were promised a job with good pay to support their families back in China. Upon arriving in the host countries, however, Chinese employers confiscated their passports, and told them that if they wanted to leave early, they had to pay a penalty for breach of contract, which is often equivalent to several months’ worth of their salary. Many workers who do not obtain a work visa are afraid of speaking out about the labor rights abuses they suffered. Even workers who obtain a work visa usually cannot change employers freely, and rarely have any rights to organize unions or strikes. Their basic human rights have been severely violated, but because they are abroad, it is difficult to seek protection under Chinese law, and the Chinese companies that force these workers to work often get away with it.

While millions of Chinese citizens with valid passports were stranded overseas at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chinese government introduced the strictest travel restrictions in the world – the so-called “Five-One” policy and the “circuit breaker” mechanism to limit the number of international flights coming into China. Such policies have caused airfares to skyrocket with very limited flights available to China. Overseas Chinese workers in BRI stranded abroad have been suffering from endless lockdowns, job loss, poverty, and little hope of returning home. Many of them cannot pass both the Covid-19 nucleic acid PCR test and Covid-19 IgM antibody test that Chinese government requires. Chinese companies also frequently use the excuse of the lack of new laborers from China to stop them from returning home. In our research, we have found that some workers were permanently disabled from untreated work-related injuries due to restriction of movement and lack of medical care, and many workers suffered disproportionate losses to covid-19 when their workplaces and dormitories became coronavirus hotbeds.

We call on the Chinese government to strengthen the protection of Chinese overseas workers’ consulate protection, increase the number of flights back to China from countries and regions where a significant number of Chinese laborers are stranded overseas, and provide charter flights for Chinese laborers. China Labor Watch also advocates for a victim-centered prevention, protection and compensation mechanism for human trafficking victims, including laborers who are forced to work within China and abroad.

1. Overview of Labor Trafficking and Forced Labor in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

1.1 Definitions

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that violates the human rights of trafficked persons. The internationally accepted definition of human trafficking refers to the process of placing and maintaining women, children, and men in exploitation. Human trafficking is not just a commercial transaction, but can be divided into three common stages: recruitment, transportation, and exploitation. Human traffickers can use many methods to force or trick victims into being trafficked. Victims may be harbored and moved by public or private means of transportation and are eventually forced into labor exploitation, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, organ harvesting, etc. without the option to “just walk away”.

Human trafficking is a crime that has existed since ancient times. However, it was not until the 19th century that the modern concept of human trafficking began to enter the public dialogue of the international community. In the early 20th century, some countries began to formulate laws and international conventions against human trafficking. In 2000, the current internationally recognized definition of human trafficking was legally broadened in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Globalization has increased the flow of labor and goods across national borders dramatically. Traffickers use fraudulent means to move workers from their country of origin to other countries, directly controlling these workers or putting them under control of an employer, exploiting them and profiting from it. Driven by huge profits, this crime is difficult to eradicate. According to estimates by the International Labor Organization, 25 million people are still trapped in forced labor globally.

According to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, it does not matter whether the trafficked persons consent, as long as the process results in deception, fraud, coercion or violence against the trafficked persons for exploitation. Under Article 3, the Protocol defines “trafficking in persons” as:

“[…] the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. Human trafficking may include sex trafficking, forced labor, forced begging, forced marriage, sale of children, and organ trafficking […]”

Although women and children are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, men, especially young and middle-aged low-skill laborers from developing countries living in poverty, still face a high risk of becoming victims of forced labor.

After victims are trafficked to their final destination, the most important feature of forced labor is the use of force or coercion. The International Labor Organization defines forced labor or compulsory labour as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”

Hence if a person cannot leave nonconsensual work due to punishment or threats of punishment,  they are in forced labor. The punishment here can refer to detention or physical punishment, or other forms of threat or abuse that can effectively prevent workers from leaving, such as detaining workers’ passport or other identity documents to prevent them from moving freely, failing to pay workers’ wages, threatening to report workers to immigration agencies for deportation, etc.

1.2 The Belt and Road Initiative and violation of Chinese overseas workers’ rights

Although Chinese media and scholars have long been concerned about protecting the rights of Chinese overseas migrant workers, some Chinese overseas workers have faced persistent problems such as passport confiscation, debt bondage, restrictions on freedom of movement and wage theft. These are all strong forced labor risk indicators, and our researchers found out that workers usually contacted Chinese embassy and consulates in the host country when they encountered labor violations, but the Chinese embassy and consulates, while knowing these issues, do not have the corresponding staff and funding to monitor and pursue these violations of overseas workers’ fundamental interests and rights.

In 2013, China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative as a geopolitical and geoeconomic remapping. The ‘Belt’ refers to a land corridor that runs through China, passing through Central Asia and extending to Eastern Europe. The ‘Road’ refers to a maritime network between ports in China, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This ambitious plan proposed by China for global development has now covered more than two-thirds of the world’s countries, mainly developing countries in geopolitically sensitive regions. China intends to consolidate Beijing’s global influence through large-scale infrastructure construction, energy and natural resource development, transportation, industrial construction, investment and other trade activities in these countries.

While using China’s wealth and technology to create new markets for Chinese companies, the BRI has also exported China’s economic development model of exploiting its own workers at the bottom of society. Many Chinese workers working on BRI projects are forced to live in isolation with passports detained by their employer, and are constantly threatened and intimidated with debt and deportation. They do not have legal work visas, transportation, or medical care. Even if they identify themselves as victims of human trafficking and forced labor, it is very unlikely for them to get out of the plight. In particular, many countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where many emerging projects of the BRI are located, do not have comprehensive anti-trafficking laws and policies due to historical, cultural, and colonial factors. The host countries often lack an effective criminal justice system preventing human trafficking and forced labor crimes. Resources are also insufficient to provide victims with personal safety protection, legal assistance, temporary shelters and medical services.

At the same time, China lacks specific legislation to protect Chinese laborers abroad. China’s Labor Law and Labor Contract Law have no effect abroad, so it is difficult to protect workers overseas. After the reform of Chinese government institutions in 2008, the government function protecting the rights and interests of overseas workers was transferred from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to the Ministry of Commerce, but the main responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce is about economy and trade, not labor protection. China does not have a government agency specifically dedicated to the protection and management of overseas workers’ protection, and Chinese embassies and consulates have not set up an agency specifically responsible for overseas labor affairs.

China lacks sufficient and effective data on human trafficking. Also, according to the 1997 Criminal Law, only women and children can be legally recognized as trafficking victims. The abduction of adult men and their exploitation does not constitute the crime of human trafficking. As a result, China’s Criminal Law only convicts and punishes those who traffic adult men into forced labor if the victims are found with intentional injury or in illegal detention. However, without the intervention of criminal law enforcement officials in China and the country where the labor is located, it is nearly impossible for Chinese overseas workers to collect evidence and file lawsuits. We found that if workers are found trying to collect evidence such as photos and videos, or even talk to other workers about labor rights violations, they will be warned by their employers.

These factors mean that the rights and interests of Chinese adult male workers – who may have been trafficked to work in countries where the BRI projects are located – cannot be effectively protected. Usually neither the host country nor China (the country of origin) has a strong enough criminal justice system to investigate, prosecute and convict the perpetrators. Furthermore, there is no victim-centered prevention, protection, or compensation mechanism.

In order to understand the real living and working conditions of Chinese overseas workers and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on them, China Labor Watch has conducted this research project. We found that with China’s economy increasingly under pressure, the slowing down of the construction sector and fewer jobs being available near home, many Chinese workers from poor rural areas hope to find higher-paying jobs overseas to support their families. However, they often find themselves stuck in the ongoing exploitation by recruiters, subcontractors, and employers both in China and the host countries. Almost all overseas workers are compelled to pay large recruitment fees or security deposits, and forced to sign illegal contracts restricting their rights. Because they are often put on tourist visas and face the threat of deportation or losing their jobs by their employers, many workers who do not obtain a work visa are afraid of speaking out about the labor rights abuses they suffered. Even workers who obtain a work visa usually cannot change employers freely, and rarely have any rights to organize unions or strikes. When these workers who traveled tens of thousands miles away from home to work in a foreign land encounter abuses such as withholding wages, detaining passports, forced overtime work, and limiting access to healthcare, their ability to look for social protection and fight for their rights are severely constrained. Additionally, China’s strict air travel restrictions and the skyrocketing flight prices during the pandemic have made the journey home for these overseas workers extremely difficult.

Article 12, paragraph 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) signed by the Chinese government in 1998 states that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” But when millions of Chinese citizens with valid passports were stranded overseas at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chinese government introduced the strictest travel restrictions in the world – the so-called “Five-One” policy and the “circuit breaker” mechanism to limit the number of international flights coming into China. Such policies have caused airfares to skyrocket with very limited flights available to China. Many overseas Chinese workers are stranded abroad, especially in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and have been suffering from endless lockdowns, job loss, poverty, and little hope of returning home. In recent months, articles, photos, and comments on Chinese social media (such as WeChat) sharing the plight of overseas Chinese workers are often quickly censored, leading the outside world to have little understanding of their dire situation.

1.3 Methodology

China Labor Watch carried out research for this report between August 2020 and April 2021. The data in this report are mainly derived from nearly 100 Chinese workers in 8 BRI countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africaother online citizen reporters and Chinese volunteers in host countries who are concerned about the rights of Chinese workers abroad.

We conducted in-depth interviews via instant messaging softwares, phone calls and emails with 22 Chinese workers who worked or currently work on various BRI projects located in Indonesia, Algeria, Singapore, Jordan, Pakistan, Serbia and other countries, and found that the following infringements are widespread: passport detention, restrictions on freedom of movement, excessive overtime, no holidays, unpaid wages, workers being forced to work with illegal visas, deceptive recruitment and false promises, isolation from the local community, intimidation and threats, high penalties if workers want to leave their jobs early, lack of medical treatment, poor living and working conditions, insufficient labor protection and safety equipments, no reasonable complaint channels or grievance mechanism, restricted freedom of speech, and harsh punishment of workers who lead protests.

We analyzed documents including labor contracts, workers’ complaints, collective petitions, personal letters calling for help, internal corporate documents, statements from Chinese embassies and consulates, and work records of volunteer groups. We also analyzed media news reports, academic articles, international law and Chinese laws and policies, and China’s state reports on Chinese overseas workers.

We used the snowball sampling method to find most of our interviewees. This method is especially suitable for those who are difficult to reach. In order to protect the privacy of participants, we have replaced the interviewees’ names with numbers and concealed their identifiable information. Almost all interviewees were fearful of complaining about their situation because they were concerned about reprisals from their employers, such as being turned over to local authorities for jail time or deportation, physical and mental abuses, wage deductions, fines, or not being permitted to go home.

1.4 Forced labor

ILO indicators of forced labor

What China Labor Watch found 

Interviewees

Abuse of vulnerability

Among the workers we interviewed, the least educated ones had only elementary school education. These workers had difficulty writing and did not know how to defend their rights when abused. They did not understand the language of the host country or English, could not communicate or seek help, and were not permitted to leave the work site. These workers were mainly employed by labor supply agencies or subcontractors and relied entirely on the employer to provide accommodation and meals. When the employer told them that due to the high price of air tickets, they were not allowed to return to China, they had no other choice than to stay and continue working.

#1 – #22

Deception

Almost all of the workers we interviewed were deceptively recruited from China to work abroad. For example, the wages and labor protection equipment promised by employers were not fulfilled. Labor supply agencies would also promise to apply for legal work visas for the workers, but only when the workers arrived, they realized that they were put on tourist or business visas that made them illegally employed. However, they were too afraid to ask the local police for help due to concerns of being deported.

When a worker’s labor contract is up – if there is one – the short-term tourist or business visa would have already expired, so the worker often needs to pay a customs fine before they are permitted to leave the country.

#1 – #22

Restriction of movement

The workers we interviewed in Singapore were all arranged to live in group dormitories where the BRI infrastructure projects are located. Gates of the work site were guarded by security guards. Workers were not allowed to go out without the permission and escort of management and translators. 

#1,  #2, #7, #10 & #15 -#20

Isolation

Many of the BRI projects are located in remote areas or in newly-built industrial parks owned or occupied by Chinese companies. Besides, workers have to work long hours without holidays. Their days are spent between dormitories and construction sites. Most workers use WeChat on mobile phones to stay in touch with their families. Otherwise, there is no opportunity to contact the outside world. 

#1 – #22

Physical violence

We have found that in some Chinese steel and mining companies, workers are frequently detained and beaten by the company’s security guards due to disobedience, attempting to strike, or other disputes with management. In a WeChat group of Chinese steel workers in Indonesia, someone posted a video of a worker being repeatedly reprimanded and slapped until the uniform was covered with blood from his nose. Then other members of the group commented that a factory’s translator was the one who beat them. 

#15, #17 & #18

Intimidation and threats

Intimidation and threats are common for controlling Chinese workers in forced labor at some BRI projects. The most commonly used threats include deportation, reprisal after returning home, high fines and penalties. It is also common to force workers to sign a waiver of rights to sue the employer and to force workers to delete evidence of labor rights violations on their phones. In a WeChat group of a large Chinese steel company in Indonesia, after a worker fell from height while working, another worker in the group asked, “Did someone fall during the installation of steel structures today? How is he?” A manager from the company immediately tagged him in the WeChat group and questioned which subcontractor he belonged to, trying to identify the potential troublemaker.

#17 & #18

Retention of identity documents

The passports of all the workers we interviewed were confiscated while working abroad. Generally, upon arrival at the work destination, their passports were taken away right after getting off the plane. Sometimes when a worker desperately wanted to return to China in an emergency, such as the death of their family members or personal injuries, it was not an option because they were not in possession of their passports.

#1 – #22

Withholding of wages

Most workers interviewed by China Labor Watch said they had problems receiving salaries from their employers. There are consistent late payments of salaries and unexplained deductions.

A worker who went to Jordan worked in the desert for five months but only received his salary for the first six days. In Algeria, when an installation project of a subcontracting company was close to completion in 2019, two workers were left behind for maintenance and installation. They could not refuse the arrangement because their employer threatened them with six months of salary that had not yet been paid. They did not get paid until October 2020 due to the resignation of the former manager, which is equivalent to 16 months of wages in arrears, and the workers had to borrow money for food. 

The better situation among the workers we interviewed was when the wages were paid two months after being delayed, that is, in the first two months of work, they were only provided with food and dormitory, and the first month’s salary was paid in the third month. The worse situation would be when the salary was paid once every six months or more, not in full, sometimes only in half.

#2, #7, #9, #10, #16, #20 & #21 

Debt bondage

We found that in addition to paying a recruitment fee ranging from thousands to tens of thousands yuan (approximately US$155-1,550+), Chinese workers who go abroad for work are also told by their employers that they must repay a debt if they decide to return to China once they arrive abroad (employers usually call it a penalty). If a worker is unable to repay the debt, he will not be allowed to return to China, and must work for the employer for a few months without compensation. A worker who used to work in Algeria but is now in Angola said that he was forced to pay a penalty of 17,000 yuan (approximately US$2,630) before being permitted to leave Algeria. 

Another worker who has already returned to China said that he was forced to work in Algeria for five months. He should have earned a total salary of more than 26,000 yuan (approximately US$4,030), but after the employer deducted the penalty for his early return to China, he only got 1,800 yuan (approximately US$280).

Another worker who returned from Saudi Arabia said that he was forced to work for six months without receiving a penny. This kind of penalty for early return is a debt trap set by employers and the amount is usually between five and six months of a worker’s wage. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the price of air tickets from most countries where the BRI projects are located to China has increased up to ten times, and is even higher when some flights are suspended with only charter flights available. Many employers refused to pay for the promised round-trip international air tickets for workers, imposing an extra debt as high as 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (approximately US$3,100 to US$4,650) on workers. If workers cannot bear the debt, they cannot return to China and are forced to continue working abroad.

#1, #16, #19 & #20

Abusive working and living conditions

The workers we interviewed reported that there was often little labor protection on work sites and the safety was also very poor. One worker we contacted was paralyzed after he was hit on the waist by a hammer that fell from a height. Another worker’s eye was injured due to the lack of proper protective equipment, and another worker was injured after falling on the construction site. After some workers were injured at work, they could not get treatment in time due to poor medical services at the project site. Some workers asked to return to China for treatment and were not allowed. As a result, untreated work injuries gradually worsened and even caused permanent disability. 

In November 2020, a worker at Tsingshan Steel’s plant in Indonesia’s Weda Bay Industrial Park was killed by a ladle truck at work. In a video provided by a coworker, the on-site management staff can be heard calling the video shooter to stop immediately and leave the scene.

#6, #11, #12, #16 & #17

Excessive overtime

The workers we interviewed reported that their employers used various excuses to extend their working hours. The worst case is 12 hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, with no off days. The promise of working hours was completely different. In addition to excessive working hours, there is also an issue of forced extension of the contract. During the pandemic, many workers’ labor contracts expired, but their employers told them that due to the pandemic, replacement workers from China would not be able to arrive in time, hence they must continue to work and cannot return to China.

#8, #9, 10, #16, #20 & #21

被遗忘的人群:新冠疫情中的中国海外劳工调查报告

前言

新冠病毒在全球爆发以来,上百万在海外务工的中国工人滞留海外,无法返家。自2020年7月起,中国劳工观察通过即时通信软件、电话和电子邮件联系上近百名在亚洲、中东和非洲一带一路工程工作的中国工人,以及其他关注海外中国劳工权益问题的网络公民记者、当地华人义工等。

我们在联系上近百位海外工人之后,对其中22名在印度尼西亚、阿尔及利亚、新加坡、约旦、巴基斯坦、塞尔维亚等国的一带一路项目上工作的工人进行了深度访谈,发现有以下侵权行为普遍存在:护照被扣留、限制行动自由、超时工作、没有节假日、拖欠工资、被迫使用非法签证工作、欺骗性的招募行为和虚假承诺、和当地社区隔离、恐吓和威胁、工人如果想离职会被收取强制性的高额违约金、生病和受伤得不到医疗、恶劣的生活和工作环境、劳动保护和安全设备不足、无合理的申诉和维权机制、工人的言论自由受限、带头抗议的工人被惩罚等。

他们曾被保证会得到一份高薪工作以支持他们在中国的家人。然而,中国公司在他们抵达东道国后就没收了这些工人的护照,并告诉工人,如果他们想提早离开,将会违反合同而被处以罚款,罚款数额通常相当于工人几个月的薪水。这些工人不能自由更换雇主,没有权利组织工会或罢工。他们的基本人权受到了严重的侵害,但由于身在国外而难以寻求中国法律的保护,强迫这些工人劳动的中国公司也不会受到任何惩罚。

新冠疫情在全球爆发之后,在几百万中国公民滞留海外时,中国政府推出全世界最严格的“五个一”政策和航班熔断机制以限制飞往中国的航班。大量为一带一路项目工作的中国劳工支付不起高额的机票费用、无法通过中国政府要求的核酸和血清IgM抗体“交叉双检测”而拿不到绿码、或者遭遇中国公司借口新工人过不来而不给安排回国,至今仍被迫留在工地上。在中国劳工观察的调查研究中,我们已经发现有一些工人在工伤后由于被限制行动自由和得不到医疗造成了永久性残疾,还有许多工人在工地和宿舍爆发新冠病毒时被感染。

我们呼吁中国政府加强对中国海外劳工的使领馆保护,增加从中国海外劳工主要务工国家和地区回中国的航班,提供劳工包机,并建立以受害者为中心,且包括强迫劳动受害人的反人口贩运预防、保护和赔偿机制。

中国一带一路工程中的劳工贩运与强迫劳动概述

         定义

       人口贩运是一种现代形式的奴役,严重侵害被贩运者的人权。国际上认同的人口贩运定义指为了剥削目的而将妇女、儿童和男人置于和维持在被剥削状态的过程。人口贩运不仅是一个商业交易行为,而且常包括以下不同阶段:

1,人口贩运者招纳潜在的贩运对象。

2,迁移、转运与藏匿。

3、被贩运的受害者进入目的地被迫接受劳动剥削、性剥削、强迫婚姻、器官贩卖等,无法自由离开。

       人口贩运在人类历史上长期存在,是一项非常古老的犯罪,但直到19世纪,现代意义上的人口贩运概念才开始进入国际社会的公共讨论,20世纪初期,各国才开始制定法律和国际公约反对贩运人口活动。2000年,国际认同的人口贩运定义见载于联合国2000年通过的《联合国打击跨国有组织犯罪公约》及其《关于防止、禁止和惩治贩运人口特别是妇女和儿童的议定书》(《巴勒莫议定书》)。

       自全球化以来,劳动力和货物跨越国界的流动骤增。贩运者用欺诈手段使劳动者从其原籍国移往他国,直接或转由雇主控制这些劳动者,进行对他们的经济剥削并从中获利。由于巨大的利益驱动,这一犯罪很难根除。根据国际劳工组织的估计,全世界有两千五百万人口仍然是强迫劳动的受害者。

       根据《巴勒莫议定书》,被贩运的个人是否同意并不重要,只要招募行为导致对有关人员的侵害、欺骗、欺诈、强制或暴力。其将“贩运人口”定义为“为剥削目的而通过暴力威胁或使用暴力手段,或通过其他形式的胁迫,通过诱拐、欺诈、欺骗、滥用权力或滥用脆弱境况,或通过授受酬金或利益取得对另一人有控制权的某人的同意等手段招募、运送、转移、窝藏或接收人员。剥削应至少包括利用他人卖淫进行剥削或其他形式的性剥削、强迫劳动或服务、奴役或类似奴役的做法、劳役或切除器官”。人口贩运包括性剥削、强迫劳动、强迫乞讨、强迫婚姻、售卖儿童、器官贩运等。虽然妇女儿童特别容易成为人口贩运的受害者,但是男性,特别是发展中国家生活贫困、教育程度低、缺少技能的青壮年劳动力仍然面临着成为强迫劳动受害者的重大风险。

       强迫劳动在受害者被贩运至劳动剥削目的地之后,最重要的特征是强制,国际劳工组织将强迫劳动界定为“以任何惩罚相威胁,强迫任何人从事的非本人自愿的一切劳动或服务”。这就是说,如果一个人因为惩罚或者被威胁受到惩罚,而无法离开违背他们自由意愿从事的工作的话,他们就处于强迫劳动的状况之中。这里的处罚可以指拘禁或体罚,也可以是其他形式的可以有效阻止工人离开的威胁或虐待,例如,扣留工人的身份证件使其无法自由行动、不支付工人的工资、恐吓向移民机构举报驱逐工人出境,等等。

         一带一路战略和中国海外劳工的权益困境

        虽然中国媒体和学术界一直关注中国海外务工人员的权益保护问题,但面对一部分中国海外劳工长期以来遭遇的护照被没收、被迫为债务劳动、限制行动自由、拖欠和克扣工资这些问题,虽然都是典型的强迫劳动风险指标,根据我们的研究发现工人在被侵权后首先联系的是当地的中国领事馆,但中国使领馆在知情的同时,却并没有相应的人员配备和经费投入来监督追究这些严重侵害中国海外务工人员权益的行为。         

       2013年,中国提出了“一带一路”地缘政治和地缘经济重组发展战略,“一带”指贯穿中国、途经中亚并延伸至东欧的陆地通道,“一路”指连接中国、东南亚、非洲以及中东各个港口的海上通道。这一中国面向全球发展提出的宏大计划目前已经覆盖超过全球三分之二的国家,以处于地缘政治敏感区的发展中国家为主。中国企图在这些国家通过大规模的基建、能源和资源开发、运输、工业建设、投资和其他贸易行为巩固北京的全球影响力。

        一带一路在利用中国的财富和工业技术为中国企业带来全球新市场的同时,也输出了中国以超出底线的方式剥削底层农民工的经济发展模式。一部分为一带一路工程工作的中国工人由于被迫与当地社区隔离、身份证件被扣留、语言不通、被雇主以债务要挟、没有合法的工作签证、交通工具和求助渠道等原因,他们即使意识到了自己已经成为人口贩运和强迫劳动的受害者,却无法摆脱这样的困境。尤其是很多一带一路新兴工程所在的东南亚、中东和非洲国家由于历史、文化、殖民关系等因素影响,并没有完善的反人口贩运法律和政策,在预防人口贩运和强迫劳动犯罪方面和有效执法的资源也不够,无法为受害者提供人身安全保护、法律援助、临时避难所和医疗服务。

        同时,中国缺少对出国劳务事务的专门立法,没有为海外劳工提供权益保护的法律依据。中国的《劳动法》和《劳动合同法》没有境外效力,难以保护身处海外的工人。2008年中国政府机构改革后,境外就业人员权益保护的政府职能从原劳动和社会保障部被划分到了商务部,但是商务部的主要职责是经贸,劳动保护并不属于其业务范围。中国没有专门针对海外劳工安全保护与管理的政府机构,驻外使领馆也没有设立专门负责海外劳工事务的机构。

         中国不但缺少充分有效的关于贩运人口的数据,而且1997年《刑法》还将1979年《刑法》的贩运人口犯罪的对象缩小到了妇女儿童,只有拐卖妇女儿童才构成拐卖人口犯罪,拐卖成年男子和对其进行剥削行为不构成拐卖人口罪。这就造成中国刑法目前对贩运成年男子强迫其劳动者,只能用故意伤害罪、非法拘禁罪、强迫他人劳动罪定罪处罚。然而没有中国和劳工所在国刑事执法官员的介入,指望不幸成为人口贩运和强迫劳动受害者的中国海外劳工自己在境外取证并提起诉讼几乎是不可能的。我们发现在工人试图收集照片、视频等证据,或者仅仅是和其他工人谈论劳动权利被侵害的话题时,如果被发现都会被雇主制止和警告。

       以上这些因素都造成了被贩运到一带一路工程所在国家工作的中国籍成年男性工人权益无法得到有效的保护。无论是所在国还是原籍国中国,都没有强有力的刑事司法机关对操纵和剥削这些工人的犯罪者进行调查、起诉和定罪,也没有以受害者为中心的预防、保护和赔偿机制。

       为了了解中国海外劳工的实际生活和工作情况以及新冠病毒疫情给他们带来的影响,中国劳工观察进行了持续半年的调查研究。我们发现,随着中国经济压力增大和基建行业的放缓,农民工在家乡附近和国内更难找到劳动报酬有保障工作,许多工人不得不转向海外务工藉以养家糊口。然而一部分一带一路工程的海外中国劳工受到从家乡到目的国的中介公司、分包商、雇主等层层剥削,他们在被招募的过程中付了高额的中介费或者押金,并且被迫签订充满非法条款剥夺他们权利的工作合同。雇主经常只给他们申请旅游或商务签证而非工作签证,然后以解雇、告发遣送回国相威胁。工人不能自由更换雇主,没有权利组织工会或罢工。困境之中的工人向中国使领馆求助时,却被告知无法得到帮助。

        这些海外劳工离家几万里在异国他乡遭遇常见的劳动权利侵权例如克扣工资、扣留护照、强迫加班、工伤的时候,本身寻求保护或者维权的能力已经受到了严重限制,雪上加霜的是中国在疫情中对国际航班的限制政策、高昂的飞机票价、极端严格的新冠病毒核酸和抗体检测要求,给一带一路海外劳工返回中国带来了巨大困难。

      许多受困于东南亚、非洲、中东等地的中国籍务工人员至今仍然无法回到中国。中国网络媒体、微信公众号上关于海外中国劳工困境的文章一旦发表就会被迅速删帖、封号消声,以至于外界对这个滞留海外群体目前的绝望处境少有了解。

       研究方法

       本报告的数据主要来源于中国劳工观察从2020年8月到2021年4月期间,通过即时通信软件、电话和电子邮件联系上的近百名曾经或者正在8个亚洲、中东和非洲国家的一带一路工程工作的中国工人,以及其他关注海外中国劳工权益问题的网络公民记者、当地华人义工等。

       我们对其中22名在印度尼西亚、阿尔及利亚、新加坡、约旦、巴基斯坦、塞尔维亚等国的一带一路项目上工作的工人进行了深度访谈,发现有以下侵权行为普遍存在:护照被扣留、限制行动自由、超时工作、没有节假日、拖欠工资、被迫使用非法签证工作、欺骗性的招募行为和虚假承诺、和当地社区隔离、恐吓和威胁、工人如果想离职会被收取强制性的高额违约金、生病和受伤得不到医疗、恶劣的生活和工作环境、劳动保护和安全设备不足、无合理的申诉和维权机制、工人的言论自由受限、带头抗议的工人被惩罚等。

        我们还收集分析了一些个案文件,包括劳务合同、工人在网络上的投诉、集体请愿书、个人求助信、企业内部文件、中国使领馆文件、义工团体的工作记录等。我们也对有关中国海外工人的新闻报道、学术期刊、国际法和中国法律与政策、政府报告等进行了分析。

         我们利用滚雪球的抽样方法找到了大部分的被访谈人,这个方法特别适用于研究对象是那些较难接触到的人群。为保护参与者的隐私,我们将接受访谈的参与者编号并隐去了个人信息。

概况

根据国际劳工组织标准对照一带一路中国劳工的强迫劳动状况

国际劳工组织强迫劳动指标

CLW调查中发现的具体情况

提供信息的被访谈者

乘人之危

我们访谈的工人中,受教育程度最低的只有小学文化水平,书写有困难,在自己的权利受到侵害时不知怎样才能维权。他们不懂所在国语言,无法交流或求助,平时不能外出。这些工人一般受雇于工程分包商,完全依赖于老板提供住宿和购买食物,否则将无法独立生存。在老板借口机票价格贵,不允许他们回中国的时候只能被强制留下来继续工作。

#1 – #22

欺诈

我们访谈的工人几乎都在出国务工过程中受到了欺骗性的招募行为。例如,承诺的高工资、劳动保护设备等都没有兑现。还有原先招募时中介承诺给工人办理合法工作签证,到达后工人才明白自己没有合法身份,是旅游或商业签证,属于非法工作,而由于害怕被遣返又不敢向当地警方求助。

工人在工作期满回国时,因为短期的旅游签证早已过期,还需要自己向所在国海关缴纳一笔罚款才能出境。

#1 – #22

限制行动自由

我们访谈的工人(新加坡除外)基本上都被统一安排居住在工程所在地的宿舍,大门有保安看守,平时如果没有管理人员和翻译允许和陪同则完全不可以外出。

#1 – #2、#7 – #10、#15 – #20

隔离

很多一带一路工程地处偏远,或者位于中国企业新建设的工业园区,再加上工人除了工作、吃饭、睡觉,每天从集体宿舍到工地两点一线之外不让外出,他们除了用手机和家人微信聊天之外,没有和外界接触的机会。

#1 – #22

身体和性暴力

我们发现在一些钢铁和矿业公司普遍存在工人因不听话、罢工或其他和管理人员的纠纷而被公司雇佣的保安拘禁和殴打的情况。在印度尼西亚的一个中国工人微信群里,有人发布了一位工人被反复训斥和扇耳光直到鲜血四溅的视频,随后有群成员评论说打人的是该工厂的翻译。

#15、#17、#18

恐吓和威胁

恐吓和威胁是最常见的控制处于强迫劳动状况中的一带一路中国劳工的方法。最常使用的威胁包括向移民局举报驱逐遣返工人、回国后报复、高额罚款、扣违约金等。强迫工人签署放弃诉讼权利的声明书和强制工人删除手机上的侵权证据也很常见。在印度尼西亚一家钢铁企业的工人微信群里,有一位中国工人工作期间从高处掉下来,群里有人刚刚询问了一句“今天安装钢结构掉人了吗?人怎么样了🙏🙏🙏”,该公司的人立刻就@了发问者,并问他是哪个分包公司的。

#17、#18

扣留身份证明文件

我们访谈的所有工人的护照在国外工作期间都不在自己手里,一般是在到达工作目的地之后,一下飞机护照就被公司负责人借口统一保管而收走。在有的工人由于亲人去世、自己受伤等紧急状况而必须回国时,也因无法得到自己的护照而不能回国。

#1-#22

拖欠工资

拖欠工资的现象在我们访谈的工人中普遍存在。一名赴约旦打工的工人在沙漠里工作了五个月却只领到头六天的工资。两名在阿尔及利亚的工人在2019年分包公司安装工程接近尾声时,因为有些工程材料没有到位,被强行留下维修安装,以还没有发的半年工资相要挟。后来由于分包公司负责人辞职找不到人签字,一直到2020年10月仍未发工资,相当于拖欠了十六个月的工资没有发,工人不得不借钱才能吃上饭。

接受访谈的工人中好的情况是工资被拖后两个月才发,也就是开始工作时只管吃管住,第三个月才发第一个月的工资。差的情况是半年甚至更久才发一次工资,并且不会发全额,有的时候只发一半。

#2、#7、#9、#10、#16、#20 & #21

债役

我们发现,出国务工的中国工人除了要向中介交纳一笔几千到几万元不等的中介费之外,还有一到达国外,就被雇主告知如果反悔回国就必须偿还一笔债务(雇主通常称之为违约金)的情况。如果工人无法偿还这笔债务,是不会被允许提前回国的,必须无偿为雇主工作几个月,直到累计的工资总额等于违约金总额,抵消了债务,才会被允许离开。

一位原来在阿尔及利亚务工,现在在安哥拉的工人说,他被迫交纳了一万七千元违约金才离开阿尔及利亚。另一位已经回到国内的工人说,他被迫在阿尔及利亚干了五个月,工资总计两万六千多,因为雇主从中扣除他提前回国的违约金,最后只拿到手一千八百元。还有一位从沙特阿拉伯回国的工人说自己被迫工作了半年没有拿到一分钱工资。这类强制性的提前回国违约金实际上是雇主给工人布置的债务陷阱,这一债务的数额一般大约是五到六个月的工资总额。

新冠疫情以来,由于大部分一带一路工程所在国回中国的机票价格都增长了几倍到十几倍,在航班停飞,只有包机的情况下费用更高,很多雇主无视出国劳务合同中写明支付往返的国际机票的条款或承诺,强制工人自负超出疫情之前的常规国际航班的票价溢价部分。然而这一强加给工人的债务往往也高达两三万元,工人无法承担这笔债务,就不能回国,被迫继续在工地上劳动。

#1、#16、#19、#20

恶劣的工作和生活环境

我们访谈的工人反映,工地上往往没有基本的劳保用品,安全状况也十分恶劣。我们联系到的工人有因为被高空坠落的锤子砸到腰部而造成瘫痪,因为没有恰当的保护用品而眼睛受伤,还有在工地上摔伤的。有的工人在工作中受伤之后,因为工程所在地医疗条件差无法治疗,工人要求回国而不被允许,造成得不到治疗的工伤逐渐恶化,甚至造成了永久性的残疾。

2020年11月,青山钢铁在印尼维达贝园区炼钢厂的一位工人在工作中被钢包车挤压死亡,在工人提供的现场视频中,可以听到现场管理人员喝令视频拍摄者立刻停止拍摄并离开现场。

#6、#11、#12、#16、#17

过度加班

我们访谈的工人反映,到了海外之后,就被雇主使用各种借口变相延长工作时间,最差的情况是一天工作十二小时,一年三百六十五天,没有休息日,和在国内招工时的承诺完全不同。

除了劳动时间过长之外,还有劳动期限被强制延长的问题。很多工人在疫情期间,务工合同已经到期,但是雇主借口说由于疫情,国内顶替的工人过不来,这些已经到期的工人必须继续留下来劳动,不能回国。

#8、#9、10、#16、#20、#21


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