Spotlight News 10/04/2016

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.

Authorities in Bangladesh Indicate Arms Used in July Terror Attack Were Smuggled to Militants Disguised as a Cargo Consignment of Fruit

Investigators in Bangladesh recently determined that the firearms used in the terrorist attack on a café in the Gulshan area of Dhaka in July were smuggled to the perpetrators disguised as a cargo consignment of fruit. Security officials suspect that a criminal group specializing in arms smuggling arranged the shipment. Authorities indicated that the criminals trafficked the firearms, including three assault rifles and five pistols, from northeastern India into Bangladesh using an undisclosed smuggling method. The smugglers then hid the weapons inside a consignment of mangoes, which they transported to militants in Dhaka. Bangladesh’s government suspects the Jamatul Mujahedin Bangladesh, a jihadist terrorist group, carried out the July attack, although the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group claimed responsibility for the incident. The assault in Gulshan killed 23 people, primarily foreign nationals, making it the deadliest terror attack in Bangladesh’s history.

The recent investigation underscores the intersection of terrorism and contraband smuggling risks, which are both major concerns in the southern Asia region. Militant activity in northeastern India has created a pull factor for weapons to this area, and weak controls on the India-Bangladesh boundary facilitate the cross-border movement of these weapons. BSI reported in February about a primarily criminal group that cooperated with terrorists to traffic weapons from Europe to the Middle East via introduction into cargo shipments. The recent investigation in Bangladesh highlights the potential that such cooperation between transnational criminal and terrorist groups is increasing.

Thousands Protest Outside Taiwanese-Owned Steel Factory in Hanoi, Vietnam

Authorities in Vietnam launched an operation to remove tonnes of dead fish, reportedly killed by industrial pollution, from a freshwater lake in Hanoi, citing the incident as one of the most serious man-made environmental disasters in the nation. The incident triggered a massive protest outside a Taiwanese-owned factory, which admitted responsibility for a chemical spill which killed off the fish. Protesters demanded that the factory be closed and that the owners compensate affected residents for the economic damages to the seafood and tourist industries in three provinces. Protesters asserted that the demonstration will continue if the factory continues operating and the government does not take further steps to address rampant water pollution, underscoring the potential business continuity impact of corporate social responsibility issues in Vietnam.