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China in Africa: The Real Story

Deborah Brautigam

Lisa Sodalo, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, writes (on the basis of fieldwork!) a comment: "China in Cameroon's Construction Sector: Towards Enforcement of Higher Labour Standards than Local Regulation?" in the May 2011 China Monitor, published by the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Among her interesting findings:

  • Chinese construction companies, like their foreign and local counterparts, hire most frequently through a local sub-contractor called a tacheron. This intermediate employer recruits the necessary number of men to complete a determined work or service, at an agreed and fixed price.
  • Safety and hygiene at work are legally part of the subcontractor's duties. Therefore, in the event of an accident, the responsibility lies with the intermediate employer, the tacheron... [yet] the primary employer, Chinese or otherwise, might be in a better position to implement the rules related to safety and hygiene, as well as to compensate the worker in the event of an accident.
  • A national study estimates that less than ten percent of [all] workplaces enforce the hygiene and safety laws. Data regarding the enforcement of these codes on Chinese sites is unavailable.
  • The minimum wage in Cameroon's construction sector is approximately 63 USD per month, but across the country numerous men are willing to work at a lower rate, including for Chinese companies. Comparatively, migrant workers (min gong,民工) employed at similar positions in mainland China are remunerated approximately 183 USD per month.
  • Cameroonian sources in this industry claimed that Chinese companies generally bring their fellow citizens to work on their projects. The situation might be evolving, as every Chinese construction site visited showed Cameroonian labourers working under Chinese management.
To read more, click here.