In This Review

China's Workers Under Assault: The Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy
China's Workers Under Assault: The Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy
By Anita Chan
M. E. Sharpe, 2001, 250 pp
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Sociologist Chan has reported and commented on 23 Chinese case studies of worker abuse drawn from press accounts and supplemented by her own interviews. Abuses include unpaid wages, wages below contract pay (after deduction of various fees, deposits, and "fines"), unsafe working conditions, brutally long hours, and involuntary confinement. The stories are horrendous, especially those concerning migrant workers, whose local rights are limited. Many of the recorded abuses violate national laws, sometimes with the complicity of local government officials or police. Many foreign firms are involved in the abuses, but all are of Asian (especially Taiwanese and Korean) ownership; Chan reports no cases of abuse by Western or Japanese firms. Her findings also reflect increasing press freedom in China, at least so far as labor abuse is concerned. Indeed, press exposure has often resulted in improvement in local conditions. No doubt comparable stories could be compiled for other poor countries. Poverty and shortage of work leads to cowed workers, as do ignorance of worker rights and a weak legal system. Both problems are gradually being rectified.