Forced labour reported in remote Xinjiang factory

Around a dozen workers have been held in a state of indentured servitude in a building materials factory in Xinjiang for around three years, working long hours in appalling conditions for no pay, according to an investigative report in the mainland media.

The workers were trapped thousands of miles from home in Toksun county south of the provincial capital, Urumqi. They were beaten if they tried to escape and fed the same food as the boss’ dogs.

The workers, eight of whom reportedly had mental disabilities, had been sold to the factory by an organization called the “Beggars Adoption Agency” (乞丐收养所) of Qu county in Sichuan. The agreement specified that the factory should pay the agency a one-off fee of 9,000 yuan, plus 300 yuan per month per worker and compensate the agency 1,000 yuan for each worker “lost” (丢失). The workers themselves did not receive any money.

The local police in Toksun county said they could do nothing because the factory had a legitimate labour agreement with the Sichuan civil affairs department. However, both the Sichuan provincial government and the Qu county government claimed to have no record of any such organization.

The official media reported on 14 December that the labour trafficker behind the Qu county "Beggars Adoption Agency," Zeng Lingquan, had been arrested.

More than three years after the Shanxi brick kiln slave labour scandal that shocked China in May 2007, reports of forced labour continue to surface, most recently in January this year when a Shanghai television station reported that mentally handicapped people were being forced to work at brick factories in the central province of Hubei every day, morning to night, for just 208 yuan a year.

It is clear that people with mental disabilities and itinerants across China remain vulnerable to labour traffickers and that the authorities are still reluctant or unable to tackle the problem.
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