Chinese investments in Serbia criticized for ‘miserable and dangerous’ working conditions
Touted as China’s biggest industrial investment in Europe, the $900m Ling Long Tire plant is now drawing criticism from a Serbian government that opponents accuse of unquestioning submission to China. Andrew Higgins, who received the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, writing in The New York Times (NYT) said workers and activists face issues such as human trafficking, prison working conditions and environmental damage is endemic.
Poor conditions for Vietnamese workers building a $900 million tire factory underscore a chasm between China’s promise of investment and the grim realities on the ground. About 400 Vietnamese work in Zrenjanin, along with hundreds of other Chinese, who receive higher wages and better living conditions, according to local workers and union activists.
Meanwhile, a former farmer from Vietnam described his working conditions in Serbia as ‘miserable and dangerous’ and said he was housed in a dilapidated shack crowded with other Vietnamese workers and bullied by Chinese supervisors , Higgins reported. The Ling Long Tire project took shape in September 2018 during meetings in Beijing between the populist Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, and Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.
Xi, who considered Serbia China’s most trusted European friend at a time when other nations are hounding his country, praised the Balkan nation as a “good friend honest and a good partner,” the NYT reported. Vucic predicted that the tire factory, which plans to produce more than 130 million tires a year in Zrenjanin, and other planned ventures would make Serbia “the port for Chinese investments in the whole region”.
But furor over working conditions has set back Serbia’s years-long effort to join the European Union, whose view of China has become increasingly yellowish, Higgins said. The European Parliament last month called for an investigation into the treatment of Vietnamese workers in Zrenjanin and expressed alarm “at China’s growing influence in Serbia and the Western Balkans”.
It also compounded what has become Vucic’s biggest political headache: public anger over environmental damage, largely blamed on the government’s desire to revive the economy at any cost. Chinese businesses in Serbia, which include smoldering steel mills near Belgrade, the capital, and a copper mine and smelter in the southern town of Bor, have helped stoke that anger, the NYT reported.
Despite Beijing’s praise in pro-government Serbian media, it has made China synonymous in the minds of many Serbs with environmental degradation. A few workers fled. But for most of them, leaving would mean breaking their contracts and leaving their family members in Vietnam in the hands of labor brokers and loan sharks who paid for their trip to Serbia, the workers said. Higgins said.
Vietnamese workers who agreed to be interviewed by The Times through an interpreter said they had lived for months in squalid barrack-like shelters previously used by a local farm to raise pigs and chickens. Furthermore, the labor contracts signed by the Vietnamese workers with China Energy Engineering Group, a subcontractor of Ling Long supervising the construction, bind each worker not to engage in union activities, and to “refrain from anything that could damage his reputation or the reputation” of the company. Chinese company.
Even more restrictive are the conditions set by recruitment agencies in Vietnam. One agency, Song Hy Gia Lai International, demanded that all workers traveling to Europe sign a document pledging never to strike or demonstrate. The document appears to have been copied and pasted from agreements originally drafted for workers recruited in Vietnam to work in the Middle East: it warns that workers traveling to Serbia risk having their hands cut off if they fly, the NYT reported.
A Vietnamese worker who spoke to a Serbian TV channel in November about what he described as inhumane living conditions has been questioned by Serbian police – and released after signing a statement saying he had no complaint to make. Another who spoke to Serbian media was fired. (ANI)
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)