Thousands of Chinese Foreign Workers in Belarus Face High Risk of Poor Labor Conditions due to Under-Regulated Silk Road Investment Projects
Following Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka’s official visit to China late last month, thousands of Chinese foreign workers in Belarus now face a greater risk of poor labor conditions due to a new provision that cuts oversight of foreign labor for Chinese investment projects in the country. Decree № 349 "On the implementation of investment projects" streamlines the process for foreign workforce employment at six Chinese companies operating in Belarus by allowing the procurement of special work permits for foreign citizens and stateless individuals in five days or less without input from the Executive Committee on Labor, Employment, and Social Protection. This amendment is likely to further exacerbate the High threat to working conditions in Belarus.
Since 2013, China has invested over $5 billion in 24 Belarusian projects across multiple industries, including utilities, automotive, textiles, pulp, and paper, as part of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. According to the Belarusian Interior Ministry, nearly 4,100 Chinese workers moved to Belarus in the first half of this year alone and now outnumber all other foreign nationalities in the country. Attracted by the promise of significantly higher wages than at home, most Chinese laborers come for short time spans, primarily to work on the construction of production facilities as well as power stations.
Reports of poor labor conditions at Chinese construction sites in Belarus started to appear last year, underscoring the lax worker protections in Belarus and the potential for an even worse situation following the latest legal revision highlighted above. In July 2015, over 200 Chinese workers building a cardboard factory in the small town of Dobrus in Gomel region went on strike due to harsh working conditions, including months of unpaid wages and 10-14 hour working days. The Chinese contractor also allegedly confiscated the workers’ passports as well as forbid the purchase of local SIM cards for cell phone usage. The day-long protest, which devolved into small-scale clashes with Belarusian police, subsided only after the Chinese ambassador to Belarus intervened in negotiations with the employer.
This previous incident coupled with the recent announcement of under-regulated Chinese-Belarusian economic cooperation highlights a concerning trend for corporate social responsibility in Belarus. BSI will continue to closely monitor the growing influx of Chinese laborers into Belarus for additional threats to the integrity of supply chains in the country.