China Makes Great Strides in Labor and Employment Practices for Adults, but Fails to Protect Children

by Dana Dohn

The American Bar Association recently announced that it will be hosting a webinar on October 16, 2014, entitled “Best Practices for Labor & Employment Issues in China.”[1] During this event, China law expert James Zimmerman will be discussing and exploring many of the recent changes in the Chinese workforce, including the rise in unionization and wage and labor disputes.[2] Zimmerman will also be highlighting the best employment practices surrounding the recent overhaul and expansion of workers’ rights contained in China’s Labor Contract Law.[3] Since the beginning of the reform in 1994 with the first draft of the National Labour Law, adult employees in the People’s Republic of China have seen great change and gained substantial workforce protections.[4] Unfortunately, this large-scale overhaul has done little to increase the protection of children’s labor rights.[5]

Chinese laws set the legal working age at sixteen, which is above the standards set by the International Labor Organization for both developing and developed nations.[6] Despite these standards and the evolving reforms over the past twenty years, manufacturing giants, such as Samsung Electronics Co., are contracting with Chinese suppliers that illegally employ children.[7] An event from July of this year marks the third set of allegations against Samsung’s Chinese suppliers in only two years.[8] Although Samsung denies all allegations of illegal child labor, China Labor Watch stated that it had found numerous children who were employed without labor contracts and were only paid for a portion of the hours that they were working.[9] Previous allegations against other Samsung suppliers found minors as young as fourteen working in two different electronics plants.[10]

Unfortunately, China is not the only country in which the existence of child labor standards has not entirely curbed the child labor problem.[11] UNICEF, an international organization for children’s rights and emergency relief, reports that there are an estimated 246,000,000 children throughout the world who are laborers.[12] Additionally, almost 70% of these children work in dangerous working conditions, such as mines, chemical plants, and factories.[13] The Asia and Pacific region alone employs the largest number of child workers under the age of fourteen years old, totaling 127,300,000.[14] Child labor rates tend to be higher in countries that have limited access to education and high rates of poverty, despite the existence of laws and standards to protect children.[15] Although Chinese child labor standards are largely similar to those of the United States, the enforcement of Chinese standards for child laborers appears to be much more lax.[16] Hopefully, in time, the progress that China has made in updating and enforcing its labor contract laws for adults will catch up, and the government will better enforce its policies and regulations for children.

[1] James Zimmerman, Best Practices for Labor & Employment Issues in China, AM. BAR ASS’N., http://shop.americanbar.org/ebus/ABAEventsCalendar/EventDetails.aspx?productId=132934862&sc_cid=CE1410CLC-A (last visited Sept. 12, 2014).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] See Mary E. Gallagher & Baohua Dong, Legislating Harmony: Labour Law Reform in Contemporary China, UNIV. OF MICH. 2-3, http://www.erb.umich.edu/Research/Initiatives/colloquiaPapers/GallagherRevisedPaperJan08.pdf (last visited Sept. 12, 2014).

[5] See Baogang Guo, China’s Labor Standards: Myths and Realities, CHINA RESEARCH CTR. 4-5 (Feb. 7, 2003), available at http://www.academia.edu/165449/Chinas_Labor_Standards_Myths_and_Realities.

[6] Id.

[7] Geoffrey Smith, Samsung Distances Itself From Supplier After New Child Labor Uproar, FORTUNE (July 14, 2014), http://fortune.com/2014/07/14/samsung-distances-itself-from-supplier-after-new-child-labor-uproar/.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] See Factsheet: Child Labour, UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/child_labour.pdf (last visited Sept. 12, 2014).

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Causes of Child Labor, CHILD LABOR PUBLIC EDUCATION PROJECT. https://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/causes.html (last visited Sept. 12, 2014).

[16] See Baogang Guo, supra note 5; see also Geoffrey Smith, supra note 7.

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