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Protecting workers' rights in China during the coronavirus outbreak

The spread of the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV), first reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has become a monumental global health concern. There are almost 25,000 confirmed cases in 25 countries as of February 5, 2020, with more than 99 percent of the cases reported across China. As part of the Chinese Government’s containment efforts, at least 15 cities are under some form of mobility or travel restriction that has impacted almost 50 million people.

The Chinese Government has extended the official Chinese Lunar New Year holiday in order to curtail travel and the overall movement of people, in line with their virus containment strategy. Originally the holiday was scheduled to end on January 30. Currently, the official date for people to return to work in many provinces and cities in China is February 10, 2020, although that date may be further postponed by local or central authorities. Other areas like Hubei Province, which is the epicenter of the outbreak, are following stricter control measures, and people in those areas are not expected to return to work until February 14. In many places, there is not only a restriction on coming in and out of the cities but also restrictions on the use of public transportation.

This issue brief provides background on the spread of the new coronavirus, the potential implications for workers and suppliers, and the notice for employers issued by China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. Recommendations are provided for FLA members. 

Working cooperatively with suppliers, particularly when they are experiencing difficulties beyond their control, is not only a matter of compliance but also a key component of responsible sourcing and social responsibility that leads to enhanced protection for workers.

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