It’s a curious exercise to run through the list of countries recently noted to be making significant advancements in their trade with developing countries. This, as reported in a recent Asian Tribune article and a 2007 UN Report, “The State of South-South Cooperation.” China, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, India — really, it’s a fantastic game of ‘what doesn’t belong.’
The correct response is of course China. China is the only non-DAC donor on the list, thus removed from various guidelines which bind the other parties. What this means in practice is that no one in the international community is really quite sure as to what’s behind Chinese aid, how it works, or how it fits into the bigger picture of foreign aid assistance. Much of my time at the UN was spent trying to discover this; yet the most I - or anyone - was able to conclude is that Chinese “aid” is not really “aid” in the traditional sense, but is tied to various kickbacks the government hopes to receive in return. What truly lies beneath it is at this point anyone’s guess.
The likelihood of China joining the DAC anytime soon is quite slim. At the same time, China continues to pump billions upon billions of dollars into various projects, most prominently in Africa. Just yesterday the China-Africa Development Fund signed its first batch of investment deals totaling $90 million. In the world of development aid this makes China an anomaly. While incorporating China into the DAC may presently not be an option, the international community must find some way to rope China in - not only for monitoring purposes but also, and most importantly, to successfully coordinate and align development projects to ensure they attain their intended objectives.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
African and Western labor groups alike lament poor working conditions in Chinese firms operating in Africa. Many African employees work long hours, are paid well below the minimum wage, have no vacation days and often experience physical abuse from their Chinese managers. Without a doubt, conditions such as these are unacceptable and deserving of immediate attention and rectification.
Before we continue pointing fingers and touting the cruelty of the Chinese in Africa, however, it's worth considering what lies at the root of the problem. The answer, I think, is nothing more than a simple case of continuing with the familiar, as documented in a recent NYTimes article. It is no mystery that labor conditions in China are anything but great. Employees in Chinese factories work long hours, are paid well below the minimum wage, have no vacation days and often experience physical abuse from their managers. Sound familiar? It should.
While a change in labor conditions in Africa must certainly come, such change is likewise badly needly in China. For until Chinese companies grant their own workers the rights they deserve, it's unlikely that these rights will be bestowed unto foreign nationals working in their firms.