Chinese diplomats are embroiled in a fierce war of words with Zimbabwean unions over accusations that many Chinese companies are abusing indigenous workers.
Over the years, Beijing’s influence over the Zimbabwean economy has grown with investments in mining and construction projects, according to The EastAfrican (Kenya). However, Chinese companies are regularly accused of mistreating workers.
Unions say Zimbabwean officials often ignore reports of labor rights violations by Chinese employers.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the largest body representing workers in the private sector, recently took the country by storm when it used social media to denounce “slavery-like working conditions” in a Chinese-owned brickyard on the outskirts of the capital Harare.
The ZCTU believes that workers at Sunny Yi Feng Brickyard are paid less than minimum wage and are forced to stay in overcrowded living spaces and be exposed to dangerous chemicals.
According to union members, some workers even died at the factory and their deaths were covered up by the Chinese.
China Responds to Zimbabwe “Abuse” Charges
The Chinese embassy in Harare has reacted angrily to the allegations and warned that they could harm China-Zimbabwe relations.
“Recently, a number of people have taken to social media a series of allegations against Chinese companies in Zimbabwe by posting unidentified video clips,” the embassy said in a particularly strong statement.
“Ultimately, all of these accusations are aimed at Sino-Zimbabwean cooperation and China’s foreign policy towards Zimbabwe.”
“Obviously, this is an organized and systematic smear campaign against China.”
The diplomatic mission affirmed that the Chinese government always ensures that companies owned by its citizens comply with the laws and regulations of the host country.
“The friendship and cooperation between China and Zimbabwe will not be affected by slander or defamation of any person or force,” the Chinese embassy said in a statement.
“The decision to undermine good Sino-Zimbabwean relations will make us more determined and motivated to develop a deep friendship and fruitful cooperation between the two countries.”
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Zimbabwe (CCEZ) was also faced with a very charged statement shared by the Embassy on its social media platforms.
“The management and policies of our member companies are based on the principles of respect for human rights, justice and equality for all workers,” CCEZ said. “We respect the laws and regulations of Zimbabwe and fully respect the people of Zimbabwe.”
“The projects run by our member companies that contribute to Zimbabwe’s development speak for themselves.
The CCEZ said it “strongly condemns the unfounded and false accusations against the Chinese government and citizens. The covert attacks will not affect our resolve to advance the” good between two countries “relationship.
Allegations against China
Japhet Moyo, ZCTU general secretary, said there is evidence to support their claims against the Chinese brick maker.
“Instead of spending money on PR tips, the company should be fixing these issues,” he said. “The ZCTU will continue to pursue this matter, even at the international level. We cannot stand idly by and watch our workers be mistreated.”
Tensions between Chinese employers and unions in Zimbabwe peaked in 2020 after two local workers were reportedly shot and wounded by their Chinese employer in a mine, as they complained about the wages they received.
“The problem of worker abuse is systemic and pervasive. And this shooting revealed widespread abuses against workers, ”said the Harare-based Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA).
According to this association, local workers receive low wages and, in many cases, do not receive their wages on time.
“It has become a model and a system. We have documented cases of local minors being abused, beaten and discriminated against by their Chinese owners.
“People in some Chinese-owned mines often work in dangerous, harsh and life-threatening conditions while being poorly paid,” ZELA said.