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August 30, 2018

Will Foreign NGO Law Be Invoked in Ongoing Labor Case?

As reported by the South China Morning Post, the official Chinese media outlet Xinhua last week asserted that Hong Kong-based organization Worker Empowerment helped a Chinese NGO organize a labor strike in Shenzhen. Worker Empowerment denied the allegations in an August 27 statement, saying that it “has never been involved in organizing or financially supporting workers or their supporters.”

The August 24 Xinhua report states that the Chinese NGO in question, Dagongzhe Zhongxin (打工者中心), or “Workers’ Center,” “used a series of lectures to incite and organize worker strikes.” After noting that Dagongzhe is unregistered and therefore an illegal organization, the report goes on to say that an initial police investigation showed that all of Dagongzhe’s expenses had been subsidized by Worker Empowerment, a “foreign organization” that is itself “supported by Western NGOs.”

Xinhua’s coverage seems to be implicitly reference the Foreign NGO Law, but never formally invokes the law itself, even though it mentions foreign organizations multiple times. (NGOs incorporated in Hong Kong are considered “foreign” under the Foreign NGO Law.) At the same time, however, Xinhua’s choice of wording signals that the government could choose to consider several aspects of the case to be violations of the Foreign NGO Law. First, the article seems to imply that any funding that Worker Empowerment provided Dagongzhe—if indeed it did so—was not done in an above-board manner. The Ministry of Public Security database does not list Worker Empowerment as having a representative office in China or having filed for a temporary activity, meaning that if it did provide money to Dagongzhe it did not go through official Foreign NGO Law mechanisms to do so. Second, the article notes that Dagongzhe is not registered domestically, meaning that under the Foreign NGO Law it is not eligible to partner with foreign NGOs for temporary activities.

Similarly, Worker Empowerment’s public statement notes that two Dagongzhe staff members were detained earlier this month on charges of “picking quarrels and making trouble” (xunxin zishi, 寻衅滋事). The statement does not make mention of the Foreign NGO Law being formally invoked in this process.

Notably, the Chinese government earlier this year released a cartoon on “National Security Education Day” that portrayed foreign labor NGOs as engaged in “infiltrating ideas” into China and illegally organizing protests. That followed a case in 2017 in which labor rights activists affiliated with the United States-based China Labor Watch were detained for investigating factory conditions in Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces; the two activists are currently out on bail pending trial. The Foreign NGO Law was not formally invoked in their detention proceedings.

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