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How a Hidden Worker’s Rights Movement is Disrupting China

Ben Phillips | Country Analyst

Over the past month, truck drivers in more than a dozen regions of China have staged protests against increased gas prices and stagnant wages. Chinese truck drivers throughout the nation have banded together via social media to fight the monopolistic dominance of Yun Man Man, a trucking company known for its extremely low pay. Since April, workers from nearly every transportation industry have held protests, representing a large-scale societal shift happening in the country.

China’s manufacturing workers have also ignited a nationwide movement that’s fighting for better pay and more sustainable hours. While many see these recent outbreaks as insignificant and containable by China’s Communist Party, groundTruth Global predicts a different outcome. Through the use of real time data from the China Labor Bulletin, an NGO based out of Hong Kong that provides accurate information regarding various protests happening around the country, we are able to track social disruptions that are otherwise censored or unreported by the CCP. This has allowed groundTruth Global to analyze both past and present data, helping us to understand these protests as being part of a greater trend of social unrest that could potentially serve as a serious disruption to supply chain operations.

Data shows where protests most frequently occur. SOURCE: China Labor Bulletin

In 2012, the China Labor Bulletin recorded a yearly total of 382 protests. By 2016, the yearly total jumped to 2,664 protests. Most of these protests are happening in areas such as Guangdong, or Shandong, which are heavily dominated by textile manufacturers. Despite attempts by the CCP to falsify data regarding growing levels of unrest, a clear increase in disturbances over the past 15 years can be seen. Much of this can be accounted for by the contrast in high levels of education and extremely low pay. In most third world countries, the average education level of a low wage factory worker is 4 years. In China, the average education level for a factory worker is 10 years, yet the average pay is one of lowest in the world. As China continues its economic dominance on the global stage, low wage workers are beginning to recognize the pivotal role they play in their nation’s success. But this recognition comes with a price.

In 2008, less than 7% of protests in China were in response to low wages. By 2012, about 23% of strikes were targeted at increasing pay. Since then, that statistic has only grown, making low wages one of the strongest predictors for social disruption in all of China. Looking forward, it’s important for companies to understand the irreversible shift in workers’ rights emerging in China. By working with groundTruth Global, companies will be able to better understand the indicators of social unrest and better predict how these disturbances will directly impact their supply chain operations.