11/19/2007, 00.00
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Xinjiang brick factory closed down for “slavery”

It stands accused of forcing workers, many of them children and mentally disabled, to over 20 hours of labour a day. Overtime was not paid and wages were months behind. The factory has been closed down and investigations are underway. A lawyer: the problem is the “laxity” of those who should be protecting workers rights.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) –The Xiangtai brick factory in Xinjiang has been closed down.  It is accused of forcing its workers, children and the mentally disabled of working up to 20 hours a day without pay.  Lin Zhonggeng, head of Urumqi County’s Labour Supervision Team, said the Xiangtai brick factory operated illegally and had no records of employees, labour contracts, social security payments or paying overtime wages.


A former worker has told a local paper that “They hired more than 40 peasants, including a child about 13 year’s old and handicapped people, to work in the factory”. “We were forced to work from 5am to 2am the next day. We were often beaten for not doing things as well as the overseers wanted”. “More than half of us could not tolerate it any more and ran away without getting months of unpaid wages”.


Another worker confirms that in the factory “They employed mentally handicapped workers. Most of the mentally disabled could not get paid even though they were forced to work like machines all day”. But Lin insists “No mentally disabled worker was found at the scene while authorities were there”. The factory has now been ordered to shut down and pay the backlog of wages.


But Gan Weidong from the Xinjiang Xinnan Law Firm told the South China Morning Post that “Supervision and enforcement of relevant laws is too lax to protect workers”.  He observes that although Premier Wen Jiabao has spared no effort to protect workers' basic rights since taking office five years ago, “regional law enforcement is not strict enough in enforcing relevant laws”. “That's the root of the problem”.


Last June in Shanxi and in Henan the exploitation of hundreds, some say thousands, of “slaves” was denounced.  Forced to work in the brick factories all day barely being fed, they were controlled by guards and dogs to prevent them fleeing.  Their numbers included kidnapped children and the mentally disabled.  But after a few weeks of clamour nothing more was heard of the problem.



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