From iron rice bowl to the world's biggest sweatshop : Globalization, institutional constraints, and the rights of Chinese workers

Chak Kwan Chan, Zhaiwen Peng

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)

5 Citations (Scopus)


This article discusses how China's institutional constraints combine with its integrationinto the global economy to suppress its workers' rights. The rapid expansion of China'smarket economy is the consequence of the government's active embrace of global capitalismand global capitalists' ongoing search for new markets and lower production costs.China's traditional socialist labor relationships collapsed as a result of state-owned enterprise(SOE) reform and the emergence of private enterprises. In the wake of these events,China's leaders promulgated new labor legislation and social insurance schemes, but theseinitiatives fail to safeguard workers' rights effectively. This is because the SOEs fail tocompensate their workers properly, local authorities do not actively monitor labor abuses,the judicial system cannot effectively defend workers' rights, and the Chinese governmentsuppresses efforts to organize independent labor unions. In short, global capitalism, togetherwith China's authoritarian polity, has limited workers' rights and undermined theirwell-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-445
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Service Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes



  • Local government
  • Social insurance
  • Public assistance programs
  • Labor unions
  • Migrant labor
  • Government officials
  • Employment
  • Labor law
  • Government reform

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