Thursday, 24 March 2011

The cost of Chinese investment in Namibia

Business in Namibia is unhappy with the country's relationship with China. China is a major investor in a lot of African countries. In Southern Africa, there have been an awful lot of incidents in the last couple of years that begin to suggest that labour laws are being overlooked by enforcers or just ignored by Chinese companies. To some extent this can be written off as cultural differences or different interpretations of labour regulations - China and Namibia are very different countries. But at some point a pattern begins to emerge. This article, and the sources on which it is based, seem to suggest that pattern is one of Chinese disregard for hard-fought labour protections.

These labour protections in Namibia are those which were not available to ordinary people under their previous colonizer, South Africa. The concerns expressed here are not only those of organised labour, but also the concerns of other business owners who choose to or are forced to provide adequate protections for their employees. Autocracy, sweatshops and exploitative growth aren't an automatic route to success. Pohamba's response also lacks any economic basis: "It is shameful for black Namibian business people to condemn the Chinese who provided us with arms during our liberation struggle," he said.

Perhaps people are over-reacting and Chinese investment is necessary to Namibia's growth but when a president consistently protects investors who tend towards labour abuses, the question of whether the benefit is personal or for the country must be asked.

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