Mission Report: ITUC Fact-finding Mission on Chinese Investment in Africa

Between 4-13 July, a delegation from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) undertook a fact-finding mission across Africa to investigate the impact of Chinese investments on workers’ rights on the continent. This report provides the mission’s key findings.

Through meetings with unions, employers, government representatives, and workers’ themselves in Nigeria, Zambia and Ethiopia, the ITUC investigated the nature of Chinese investments in Africa and examined how Chinese investments have impacted jobs, workers’ rights to organise and collectively bargain, and working conditions. It also explored how labour rights are safeguarded within countries’ trade, investment and industrial development policies.

The mission shed light on numerous examples of rights violations within Chinese firms: ranging from prohibition of unionization, dismal wages below the minimum wage level, and flagrant violations of occupational health and safety regulations. That being said, the practices of Chinese firms were not always distinct from the practices of local employers or other international firms. It also revealed that governments often turn a blind eye to labour rights violations, or in some cases even facilitate such violations, as a strategy of attracting and maintaining foreign investment and sustaining employment.

The ITUC delegation has recommended a series of follow up actions to respond to these challenges. These include strengthened support for union organizing and collective bargaining within Chinese firms, strengthened pressure on African governments to enforce labour rights in their countries and on the Chinese government for respecting international labour standards in their investment agreements, and greater participation of social partners in the processes around such investments.

Further work at international level could also be considered, such as strengthened coordination with the African Union on trade and investment policies, making use of ILO supervisory mechanisms when rights are systematically violated within Chinese firms, cross-border social dialogue processes and the development of global framework agreements and communications campaigns to give greater international visibility to workers’ rights violations.

Finally, the delegation has acknowledged that China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative is a major investment project spanning across Africa, Asia and Europe, with major potential to impact workers’ jobs and working conditions across all of these continents. The delegation therefore recommends further research across more regions on the impact of Chinese investment on workers’ rights, as well as dialogue between unions in regions affected in order to develop a coordinated strategy for ensuring workers’ rights under such investments.

For more details, please see the mission report below:

Mission Report: ITUC Fact-finding Mission on Chinese Investment in Africa