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Labour groups booted out of China's tech boom town

Workers' woe as Shenzhen NGOs trashed

Workers in a Foxconn plant, credit: Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in China’s technology boom town of Shenzhen are up in arms after a sustained and co-ordinated campaign by local authorities forced more than ten to shutter their doors.

The Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen is home to one of China’s biggest technology manufacturing hubs, but workers’ rights are often forgotten and employment regulations violated in the rush to produce greater and greater quantities at lower cost, often for big name international tech brands.

As such, NGOs can provide a rare source of advice and support for the migrant workers who’ve flocked to the SEZ for employment, offering legal aid, safety training, psychological counselling and other social services.

However, it has emerged that several labour advocacy groups including Spring Breeze Labour Disputes Service Centre, Xiaoxiaocao Advisory Centre and Yuandian Worker Service Centre have been evicted or forced to move under threat of violence.

In one incident, a group of hammer-wielding people ransacked the premises of Xiaoxiaocao Workers' Home at the end of August, according to Radio Free Asia.

“There has been a sustained campaign of harassment of labour NGOs in Shenzhen this year,” China Labour Bulletin spokesman Geoff Crothall told The Reg.

“No one really knows for sure what is behind it but it is most likely an attempt to assert greater control over civil society organisations in the city. But if so they are certainly going about it in a very heavy-handed way.”

The issue has now been taken up by a group of university workers, lawyers and media organisations in China, who have written to the local authorities in Shenzhen and Guangdong province in support of the shuttered NGOs.

Even the usually partisan Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times reported the situation sympathetically.

Ironically enough, provincial authorities in Guangdong actually agreed in July to be the first in China to relax registration rules for NGOs which had been criticised as overly strict.

It’s quite possible that the Shenzhen government regards these advocacy groups as the source of, rather than a potential solution to the growing number of labour disputes across China in recent months.

In any case, with fresh allegations over labour rights violations in tech manufacturing plants emerging on an almost weekly basis, there is obviously a vital role played by NGOs in China. ®

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