Chinese workers in Libya

May 7, 2011

Acccording to a feature in Nandu Zhoukan, 36 thousand Chinese workers have been evacuated from Libya with an efficiency that, the paper claims, astounded the world. The largest operation belonged to China State Construction Engineering (CSCE, 中国建筑工程总公司), which alone employed 10 thousand Chinese workers. The paper interviewed an engineer working at a smaller operation, China Transport Construction Group (中国交通建设集团), which employed a total of 5,000 workers in Libya. This engineer, from Henan Province, worked on the real estate project near Benghazi that comprised the construction of 5,000 houses.

At the end of February, armed Libyan rebels assembled in front of the work site and commandeered two trucks. The Chinese workers assembled into units armed with crowbars and bricks; they barricaded the entrance with more trucks and threw stones over the wall. The attackers retreated, but the offices atanother, unguarded work site were looted. The article refers to these Libyans as thugs and provides no political context, but the engineer is quoted as saying that Chinese workers have encountered hostility and have even been thrown stones at before. He attributes this to causing a rise in the price of consumer goods such as cigarettes: the price of Rothmans has doubled since Chinese visitors have been buying them up. The article quotes a Chinese researcher, Liu Zhirong, as saying that the Chinese media’s portrayal of African friendliness towards Chinese is skewed. The reality, it suggests, is more mixed, just as Chinese see Africa in a mixed light (they like that cars let pedestrians cross the road).

The engineer featured in the article makes $1,700 a month, or 3-4 times what he made in China, plus a “substantial” living allowance, and has almost no expenses since accommodation, meals, and transportation are provided by the company. In less than a year in Libya, he has saved over 100 thousand yuan, while his total savings before he left China were just 5,000 yuan. An ordinary construction worker makes 4-5 thousand yuan a month, while a skilled carpenter makes around 10 thousand, or over $1,500.

Workers have 2 days off in a month. At these times, the company sometimes organised a barbecue at a nearby restaurant, a shopping trip to Benghazi, or a trip to the sea. They are not allowed to leave the site on their own — to avoid incidents such as a mass fight between Chinese workers and Algerians in Algiers in 2009. (Another article says that at a work site in Mali,  there is also a sign saying “It is not allowed to become too close to local women.”) 

It is not clear if the reporters, Zhou Peng and Wu Guixia, actualy visited  Africa, or if the article is based on interviews. The fact that Lome, the capital of Togo, is described as being on the Mediterranean coast raises suspicions of the latter.


Gezhouba Group on overseas CSR

April 20, 2011

In an exercise that is becoming increasingly common in China, Gezhouba Group, one of the major hydropower contractors in Southeast Asia and Africa, has released its 2010 corporate social responsibility report. Chapter 6 of the report is entitled “Overseas CSR.”

The report singles out Gezhouba’s second place in CCTV and the China-Africa Friendship Association’s China-Africa Friendship Award contest (see News, 22 December 2010) as proof of its social engagement. Going into detail — the section is about half a page long — the report first states that the construction of hydropower stations and roads contributes to the recipient countries’ economic development, and that Gezhouba “actively pays all kinds of tax” and “enthusiastically accepts the supervision of recipient countries’  tax and audit authorities.” In other words, its major CSR achievement is its core activity itself, and the fact that it conducts it lawfully.

Next, the report states that Gezhouba has provided 10,300 local jobs Not an insignificant number, but not very high either considering the number of countries and the fact that most jobs are unskilled.

Next, the report contains details of what it calls “participating in charity building” 参加公益建设. These include drilling four wells in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea and donating cash, as well as Lenovo computers and writing implements to schools and orphanages in Kashmir, Ethiopia, and Libya. The most surprising item is a donation of 10 million kip (about 850 euro) to the Lao ministry of energy and mines.