China has devised a novel strategy to relieve pressure on its overcrowded prisons: Use convicts as labourers on overseas projects in the developing world. The practice has exposed another facet of China’s egregious human-rights record, which, when it comes to the overseas operations of Chinese companies, includes the government’s failure to enforce its own regulations.
Not only is China the world’s leading executioner – it puts to death three times as many people every year as the rest of the world combined – it also has one of the largest prison populations: 1.57 million inmates in 2009, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College, London.
The forced dispatch of prisoners to work on overseas infrastructure projects raises new issues regarding China’s human-rights record. It also adds a new element – the dumping of convicts – to its trade and investment policy, which has been much criticized for dumping goods.