Non-mainland labor rights organizations and the new legal defense for China's workers

Wei Wei Hsing, Columbia University


Activists around the world have long criticized China's abysmal working conditions. This article, based on a month of field research in Hong Kong, seeks to define the types of strategies these activists are using to improve the plight of workers in China. I argue that non-mainland activists are currently pursuing localized legal strategies alongside more international strategies to defend Chinese workers. Secondly, this article also explores why non-mainland activists have chosen these particular strategies. Two recent case studies are used to provide greater clarity to the theoretical argument. The first case study traces the activism surrounding a criminal case against labor protestors in Guangdong province. This case highlights the legal mechanisms used to defend workers who have been arrested for protests against factory mistreatment; it also details the international mobilization of corporations towards the goal of releasing the arrested workers. The second case study examines the use of legal methods to resolve civil cases brought by workers against factories, specifically for occupational health-related problems. Again, Hong Kong-based labor organizations leveraged both domestic-legal and international capabilities to defend workers' rights.

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