China's central government has been alarmed by reports that rural migrant workers were forced to toil in extremely harsh conditions in illegal brick kilns in northern Shanxi Province.
The workers told the police they were forced to work 20 hours a day, while one worker was allegedly beaten to death by a thug using a spade, and his body buried in a nearby hill, a Shanxi newspaper reported.
Wang Zhaoguo, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, has ordered investigations into the kilns. Wang is also president of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, China's top authority of workers' unions.
The local Shanxi Evening News reported Zhang Mingqi, a member of the federation's secretariat, has arrived at Hongdong county in Shanxi Province where one of the allegedly offending kilns is located. The report said Zhang, who personally went to the site of the kiln in Caosheng Village, has expressed "great shock" over the "horrific" incident.
The Hongdong County public security department freed 31 workers in late May. One worker was earlier beaten to death by a hired thug, who has now been arrested by police, along with the son of Heng Tinghai, overseer of the kiln. Heng and four other thugs still remain at large.
The Hongdong county government has allocated a special fund to the local police force, ordering them to do everything to apprehend Heng, the alleged main culprit in the case. The boss of the kiln is Wang Binbin, who contracted the kiln to Heng. Wang is the son of the village's party chief.
The county leadership at a meeting on Wednesday said the government will pay the wages workers were owed by the kiln and compensate them 1,000 yuan (US$131) each. The compensation will not hinder the victims from filing civil law suits, the government said.
However, the report said the government has so far succeeded in contacting only seven workers, with the whereabouts of the rest unknown. An earlier report by the newspaper said the 31 victims had already been sent away by train or bus by the village heads entrusted by the local law enforcement authorities to deal with the aftermath. The report said the labourers had been paid and some of the seriously wounded were treated.
The Linfen City leadership has vowed the government will do its best to contact each of the remaining workers.
Police in charge of the case told the Shanxi Evening News that 23 of the workers said they were swindled and then sold to the kilns in Shanxi by human traffickers at train stations in Zhengzhou, capital city of central China's Henan Province and Xi'an, of the western Shaanxi Province. Another eight workers cannot recall anything about themselves except their names. It is unknown if they were already mentally disabled before they began work or were tortured to such a stupefied state.
The slaves were reportedly locked in a bare room with no bed and stove, with hired thugs and dogs patrolling outside, and fed only steam buns and cold water and had to finish theirs meals in 15 minutes. The shoeless workers were even forced to carry red-hot bricks from the kiln on their backs, leaving numerous scalds on their bodies. Worst of all, the toiling laborers were subject to frequent and brutal beatings by the hired thugs for no apparent reasons.
In a related development, the New Express newspaper reported 40 children were rescued from slavery in Shanxi brick kilns, but hundreds more are believed to be held captive.
The paper reported 400 fathers of missing boys from the central province of Henan had joined forces to find their sons at kilns hidden deep in the mountains of neighboring Shanxi.
Boys as young as eight had been taken from bus and train stations and sold for 500 yuan each to kilns where they were beaten, starved and forced to work 14 hours hauling bricks. At least 1,000 boys are being held in the kilns in Shanxi, the paper said, quoting a reporter from the Henan provincial television station.
Henan police have launched a crackdown on forced labor practices, but the report didn't say whether any results had been announced. Meanwhile, the Henan police have reported the child labour case in the Shanxi kilns to the Ministry of Public Security, asking them to direct police in Shanxi to investigate.
(CRIENGLISH.com June 15, 2007)