Tuesday, March 15, 2011

China and Libya: Update on Workers

Bangladeshi workers stranded in Libya. Photo: AFP
Last week I posted on China and Libya, highlighting the challenge of Chinese companies employing Chinese workers and the backlash against this. A reader forwarded me an article from a Bangladeshi newspaper, The Daily Star, that puts China's actions into comparative perspective. Where the Chinese government has moved in ships and planes to evacuate the 30-36,000 Chinese working in Libya (most as laborers), Bangladesh has done little to ease the plight of what appears to be anywhere from 45,000 to 60,000 Bangladeshi workers stranded in Libya. According to the article, "a Chinese company moved 804 Bangladeshi workers to Greece from Libya on Sunday."

An October 2008 article in Libyaonline.com provided some history on the Libyan government's policy of recruiting labor abroad. Then, the Libyan government had "directed foreign companies from Germany, Japan and South Korea working in Libya as well as [the] Libyan private sector to recruit workers from Bangladesh." I haven't seen any major newspapers asking whether the instability in Libya would make Bangladesh rethink its labor export strategy...


  1. Furthermore, it seems all but irrelevant to compare the reaction of one of the smaller and poorer countries in the world to that of a country as big as a continent and on the brink of becoming the worldwide economic numero uno.
    Beeing amazed that you got no questions about a possible change in the attitude of the Bangladesh government towards their labor export to Libya is of the same order as beeing amazed for not receiving those questions about the Palestinian Authority.
    Like one of your own links already shows, I could find no trace of even one Bangladeshi project in Libya. The only link is that it has 60,000 workers there who were working for a variety of foreign companies (including many from Third World countries), hoping to earn a paltry 3000 USD a year ...
    This while China had 125 companies that were active in 50 projects!
    The question about the impact on China than I saw in the press was always a question about the broader impact of Libya on the overall relationship between China and African countries, including labor export ...

    My conclusion in relation to China in Libya is that China's reputation as a business first nation was once more confirmed. This was certainly amplified by the fact that there have been critics from the Libyan government, which rightly argued that relationships between countries involves more than just commercial relations.
    Every day you saw something, like the Chinese spokespersons who insisted that the Libyan Government was responsible for the safety of Chinese citizens and Chinese goods while other Third World countries sometimes refered to all foreigners and never to goods or the fact that the Ministry Trade orchestrated everything and not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the fact that once trade was no longer possible, China was gone ...

    The question I ask is whether this is the way forward for Libya, Africa, China or the world.
    Since his metamorphosis Gaddafi has emerged as the best student in the globalization class:
    he bought remarkably few weapons (since his upgrading) and invested greatly in infrastructure, housing, universities, where he was massively calling on companies and workers from all over the world.
    In rebel held territory, you could see how this policy created and an impoverished, unemployed and revengefull population..
    And rest assured: Beijing is already seriously studying what made that the majority of those Chinese projects (in addition to exploitation, mainly in infrastructure, education and housing) were destroyed by the public (“gangsters, robbers, looters” called in the Chinese press) and its workers driven out of the country ....
    And lessons will be learned, China is like Japan ever, an expert in fine tuning its economic ambitions!

  2. This seems to me a weaker post, based on weak evidence and an unfair comparison and conclusion.

    As mentioned in an earlier response to your blog I tried to follow the events day after day and as with any crisis, I saw people who behaved like angels, and many more who were inhumane. And this was not limited to Libyans, but what about eg Tunisians who beated escaped foreign workers with iron rods (the most widespread reports of Fisk here) or the Egyptian army that drove Palestinians back to Libya, don’t forget: the Egyptian army post the revolution!
    And I know, for me it’s easy to talk, behind the almost militarized wall Europe created in the Mediterranean to keep undesirables out, while we assume that Tunisia should allow more than 100,000 displaced migrants.
    But let me limit it to some Bangladeshi facts:
    China announced that they have evacuated 15,860 Chinese(exactly) and " some 2000" others ...
    From other sources I discovered that it were mainly Bangladeshi and Vietnamese workers that were working for Chinese companies. Also Indian airlines flew Bangladeshis back and it were usually their Indian companies that paid ...
    But this is skaky evidence to see this as good practice…

    First, nobody knows who its eventual paying and under my heading “angels” are certainly the people of the IOM (UN) who really moved heaven and earth to find tickets on evacuation ships and plaines and to assist these refugees in all possible ways.
    How they where there in an organised way so quickly is beyond my comprehenson, or on what budget they have to work, I do not know, I know only that the U.S. granted some urgency funding and that it are now mainly UK planes who are flying the 60,000 Bangladeshi home.
    The initial policy Banladesi government was to advise their workers to remain in place. Many relatives of those workers dit not agree and protested:

    http://www.allheadlinenews.com/briefs/articles/90036460?Relatives% 20of% 20Libya 20migrants%%% 20block 20Bangladeshi 20highway%% 20in% 20frustration

    But whether this was true for all the Bangladeshi is questionable. Presumably there are a few dozen deaths because they liked to escape repatriation to Bangladesh:


    Like for all countries the (late) Chinese evacuation was all about "Our own people first" and that manifested itself when they left their Bangladeshi workers (with only copies of their papers as Chinese employers took their papers on recruitment) on the docks while Chinese workers could set sail:
    http://www.time.com/time/printout/0, 8816,2055709,00. html
    You would cry ... for less I imagine.