12/15/2005, 00.00
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Chinese trade unionist: "WTO failed because it has no ethical or moral guidelines"

Han Dongfang, founder of the first free Chinese trade union, told AsiaNews that the "WTO could play an important role in exporting values which protect workers". To save itself, China "must change its mentality and allow free unions".

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – "The big players of the global economy gathered in Hong Kong have failed because they think of trade as an end in itself, without ethical or moral guidelines." Contacted by AsiaNews, Han Dongfang, the founder of the first free Chinese trade union, explained thus the failure of the sixth meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), convened in Hong Kong on 13 December.

Han spent years in prison after the Tiananmen massacre. As he got sick, Beijing "freed him for medical reasons" (practically expelling him) to the United States. On his return, border guards confiscated his passport. Stateless and hosted by Hong Kong, today Han runs the China Labour Bulletin, which features news about the plight of workers in China.

"The WTO is failing even this time round because to improve its internal trade situation, each nation is looking for profit and pushing its own working class lower and lower," he said. "So the WTO has become a mere meeting of industrialists. And the rich become richer and the poor become poorer.

"This phenomenon is present above all in underdeveloped nations, but it can be found also in states which do not give clear rules to this world. This is the case with China, the new giant on the world economy, which does not have proper work laws and where free trade unions do not exist."

In this regard, "the WTO could play an important role which however it does not do."

"The meeting of 149 delegates of member states should be seen from two perspectives," Han continued. "On the one hand, the organization has a positive worth, because the will can be discerned to export economic and work laws of western countries to countries where they do not exist. From another viewpoint, however, it is negative, because the magnitude of the meeting does not allow for the discussion of local problems, more felt by and more urgent for workers.

For Han, however, the western industrial world "cannot be blamed for the decision to invest in markets where workers are less protected. This is the nature of business and of businessmen. Even Indian industrialists shift their factories to China because the workforce costs less there."

What must change is the "workers' mentality. It is only thanks to independent trade unions, which are born from a true desire to change things, that Chinese workers can be saved."

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See also
The Tiananmen massacre: after 17 years let's build up workers' rights
Clashes and protests at World Trade Organisation summit
Ordinary stories about extraordinary injustice inflicted by state corporations on employees
Han Dongfang: Dismissals, arrests, and jail do not stop Chinese workers
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Rich and poor countries wrangling over respective trade barriers


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