Chinese labour legislation affected by global economy

Chinese legislation is becoming more open so that it can meet the needs of economic expansion. Multinationals operating in China are also subjected to increasing pressure to show more social responsibility.

Chinese labour legislation affected by global economy

"International companies can be better or worse employers than local employers," says Ulla Liukkunen, Professor of Private International Law and Comparative Law.

Subcontracting chains in particular have problems because international companies do not necessarily extend their social responsibility norms to their subcontracting chain. Particularly the lowest levels of the chain often have insufficient financial resources to execute the necessary changes to improve work conditions. In 2012, the media reported on cases where international technology companies had used child labour in their supply chains.

Liukkunen says that, generally speaking, Chinese labour legislation has developed considerably through the market economy. China's renewal policy has meant a shift from the "iron rice bowl system" to a system based on employment contracts.

China has ratified 25 general conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO). However, Chinese legislation does not fully comply with the ILO's requirements.

China's work environment is significant to the rest of the world because legislation has an impact on product and service prices throughout the world, and to the social balance in China.

"When Chinese legislative work has utilised Western approaches, the approaches have been customised to suit the Chinese legal and political system. Even though Chinese laws seem to be similar to their Western counterparts, the position and functionality of Chinese legislation are mutually different. Our research project focuses on the legal culture logic and the challenges it imposes on the execution of legislation," says Liukkunen.

"Supporting rule of law development in China is an important boost to the initiatives done by the Helsinki University Faculty of Law to study Chinese law and legal culture and to make it better known," says Liukkunen.

In 2012, the Academy of Finland granted Liukkunen's research team more than one million euros in funding for research into Chinese labour legislation. Led by Liukkunen, the team comprises experts in international labour legislation, international legislation, Chinese legislation, comparative law, and social anthropology. Some of the research is being conducted in cooperation with the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences.

Seminar: China and ILO fundamental principles and rights at work, 17–18 January 2013 »»

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Text: Karin Hannukainen
Photo: 123rf
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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