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Mentally disabled workers enslaved in China factory

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Dec 14, 2010
Authorities have shut down a factory in western China where 11 workers, most of them mentally disabled, were allegedly enslaved for years in deplorable conditions, state press said Tuesday.

The case, the latest example of labour abuse in the vast country, comes three years after the eruption of a major slavery scandal in which thousands of workers were found to have been forced to work in brick kilns.

In the western Xinjiang region, the 11 workers at a building materials plant put in long hours, suffered regular beatings and were given the same food as dogs, the Beijing News said.

None of those employed at the Jiaersi Green Construction Material Chemical Factory were ever paid, the report said. Some of them had been working for up to four years.

Workers attempting to flee the factory were routinely beaten, the paper said.

According to factory owner Li Xinglin, the workers were contracted to work at the facility by an unregistered aid agency for the disabled based in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the paper said.

Li claimed he paid the agency a lump sum of 9,000 yuan (1,350 dollars) for the delivery of five of the workers and then an additional 300 yuan per worker per month, the paper said.

Xinhua news agency said that police in Xinjiang and Sichuan had launched a manhunt for Li after he fled the factory with numerous workers.

Li's wife had been taken into police custody, it said.

The head of the aid agency, identified as Zeng Lingquan, was also detained by police in Sichuan on suspicion of selling the workers into slavery, Xinhua said.

In 2007, thousands of people were forced to work in brick kilns in the provinces of Henan and Shanxi, where they were subjected to regular beatings and near-starvation. The revelations shocked the country.

Although no official numbers have been reported on how many were enslaved, a parliamentary investigation said some 53,000 migrant workers had been employed in more than 2,000 illegal brick kilns in Shanxi alone.

Since then, similar cases of slavery have been reported sporadically around China.

In May, police rescued 34 people forced to work at a brick kiln in northern China's Hebei province, state media reported at the time.

Eleven people were detained for "using methods such as beating, electrocuting, intimidating and restrictions on freedom, to force migrant workers to engage in heavy manual labour", the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily said.

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