Cablegate: Labor Ngo Community Optimistic Despite Setbacks

DE RUEHBJ #3235/01 3370919
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E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: Participants in a mid-November grassroots
Chinese labor NGO conference noted that labor NGOs, like all
civil society groups in China, continue to face difficulties,
including registering their organizations and obtaining legal
status. However, they emphasized, their organizations have
benefited from "the globalization of civil society," namely,
the growing partnerships between Chinese and international
NGOs. Beijing municipal authorities have reportedly been
given the green light to contract with local NGOs for the
provision of some social services. Several conference
participants cited this change as an important step in
solidifying a more substantive role for civil society groups
in China. End summary.


2. (SBU) Approximately twenty Chinese grassroots labor NGOs
convened in Beijing for the Northern China Labor NGO Forum
November 14-16. PolOff attended the final day of the forum,
which was organized by the International Republican Institute
(IRI) and Little Bird, a ten-year-old Chinese labor NGO that
provides legal and educational services to migrant workers.
Grassroots labor NGOs from Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shenyang, and
Zhejiang and Heilongjiang provinces were among those in
attendance. Representatives from the Henan provincial
government and the Beijing branch of the Communist Youth
League (CYL) also spoke at the conference. In spite of the
close political scrutiny Chinese NGOs face (reftel), this
conference took place as planned and participants expressed
optimism about the long-term prospects for civil society
development in China. Labor NGOs, once considered highly
sensitive, appeared to be gaining official acceptance, they

3. (SBU) Zhao Daxing, Deputy Secretary General of the China
Association for NGO Cooperation (CANGO), a nationwide
umbrella organization for NGOs sanctioned by the Ministry of
Civil Affairs (MOCA), noted that the May 2008 Sichuan
earthquake had been a watershed event for NGOs in China.
Since then, NGOs had been demonstrating increased
professionalism and specialization. International NGOs
continued to establish offices in China, and individual
volunteerism was on the rise, Zhao said. Labor NGOs were
becoming more attuned to the interests of workers by devising
practical ways to assist them, such as by working to resolve
wage arrears disputes, instead of focusing solely on
promoting corporate social responsibility. Shen Yuan, a
professor of sociology at Tsinghua University, said that
Chinese corporations were becoming more involved in
supporting NGOs and that government policy toward NGOs was
relaxing, although slowly. Shen and Zhao agreed that
globalization had extended to the civil society sector and
was allowing Chinese and international NGOs to cooperate on
common goals.


4. (SBU) Han Huimin of Home for Rural Women, a Beijing NGO
that helps female migrant workers, told conference
participants that the Beijing municipal government had been
authorized to contract with NGOs to provide social services.
Han said this represented a step forward in the government's
recognition of the positive role civil society organizations
could play in China, although she was critical of the
attitudes of local officials, many of whom were not
supportive of developing the civil society sector. (Note: A
former MOCA official subsequently told PolOff that there were
no formal policies on local government contracts with NGOs
and that these arrangements remained ad hoc.) However, Han
also cited several challenges that continued to hamper the
development of labor NGOs. Chinese NGOs, she said, had weak
administrative capabilities, lacked public relations
experience, and faced a shortage of qualified NGO managers.
Since migrant laborers were a floating population, Chinese
labor NGOs had trouble building long-term contacts within
their target group.

5. (SBU) Zhao noted that support for NGOs by Chinese
corporations remained low. Han Huimin estimated that 80
percent of the financing for Chinese labor NGOs came from
overseas. Labor advocacy groups, like other Chinese NGOs,
remained overly dependent on larger and better equipped
international NGOs for grant money, noted Zhao. Chinese
corporations were often reluctant to cooperate with NGOs for
fear of being pressured for funding. Labor NGOs, in turn,
were hesitant to accept donations from companies out of fear
they would compromise their ability to advocate for and
provide services to workers.

BEIJING 00003235 002 OF 002

6. (SBU) CANGO's Shen Yuan observed that migrant workers
remained underserved by the NGO community and the number of
labor NGOs was surprisingly small. While there were about
2,000 Chinese NGOs focusing on educational and environmental
issues, only 50-100 labor NGOs served a manufacturing labor
force of over 200 million. Nearly all labor NGOs were
concentrated in Beijing and the Pearl River Delta,
exacerbating what Shen referred to as a significant
"structural contradiction" between the demand for NGO
services and the supply of organizations that perform these

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