Building workers’ power in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

On 18 September, around 80 trade unionists from European and African countries concerned with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) gathered in Sarajevo on the occasion of the Building and Wood Workers’ International’s (BWI) two-day conference on Chinese multinational companies (MNCs) and investments in the Pan-European region. The conference seeks to address key prospects and challenges for workers employed in Chinese MNCs and BRI infrastructure projects in the region. It will also develop a regionally-coordinated campaign for organising and engagement with stakeholders in the organised value chains and sustainable industries relevant to the BRI in Europe.

Informed by the recent findings of a BWI study on the impact on labour of China’s BRI in Serbia, Croatia, Kyrgyzstan and other global trends, BWI affiliates from Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Sweden and Mauritius shared their respective national and local trade union situations in the context of the BRI, and presented opportunities for union organising. Expert discussants from the International Labour Organisation (ILO-Serbia), ASTRA Anti Trafficking Action Serbia and ITUC PERC also analysed the various perspectives and concerns of international financial institutions (IFIs), governments, and non-government organisations (NGOs) on the BRI and its impact on the different countries’ development plans.

The conference is expected to conclude on 19 September with a session wherein the participants will discuss and identify leverage points to develop a better coordinated strategy and ensure that workers’ rights are respected at Chinese worksites. The participants will also share the breakthroughs that they have made after surfacing issues on workers' agencies, which pushed Chinese MNCs to sit with them at the bargaining table and negotiate and secure agreements for workers, many of whom are migrants, across the BRI infrastructure projects.

To build momentum on the eve of BWI’s European Regional Conference, the trade unions also agreed that there is a need to put in place a comprehensive action plan to coordinate organising, advocacy and bargaining campaigns in the Pan-European Region in line with BWI’s Global Action Plan and 2023-2026 Strategic Plan for globalised rights.