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Framing the issue

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China: Labour rights and protection

As China tries moves up production value chain, issues relating to labour rights and protection remain a key concern for foreign businesses that purchase goods from or outsource manufacturing to the country. High value-added industries are exposed to elevated risks of labour rights violation that is similar to the extensively reported problems in cheap manufacturing. As the map below shows, provinces indicating highest risk of human rights (including labour rights) violations are those either with a deep-rooted ethnic tension, such as Xinjiang, or being key industrial hubs, such as the east and south coast, Sichuan and Hunan.

Increased socio-economic aspiration and better knowledge dissemination mean that Chinese workers at all levels have shown more willingness to take collective actions to raise their concerns and defend their rights. Industrial actions reported in the map are an indicative of this trend and by no means limited to any particular sector(s). As well as rising incidents of strikes, foreign firms doing business in China also face high reputational and legal risks stemming from workplace accidents and occupational health problems. China has a very poor record on workplace safety, especially in sectors such as mining, petrochemical, and iron and steel.

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