Making Chinese Labor Law Work


Labor abuses in China have drawn international condemnation and led to increasing domestic unrest. Government, business and unions in the United States have insisted that Chinese law needs to be reformed to deal with those abuses but they fail to identify precisely what reforms are required.

This article aims to shift debates about reforming Chinese labor law in the United States to a much greater level of specificity. The discussion focuses on two very prevalent abuses that are purportedly prohibited by existing labor regulation: underpayment of wages and excessive working hours. The article analyses in detail those aspects of China’s labor laws and labor institutions contributing to pervasive non-compliance. I find that the Chinese regulatory framework is undermined by a profusion of imprecise and sometimes contradictory legal rules, a bureaucratic ‘command and control’ approach to inspection and dispute resolution, and a narrow and ineffective range of tools for inducing compliance.

Drawing on successful international examples of regulatory innovation, as well as recent creative Chinese experiments in labor enforcement, I propose a range of regulatory initiatives that have realistic prospects of inducing greater adherence to the law in China’s current political and economic context.


Comparative and Foreign Law | International Law | Labor and Employment Law

Date of this Version

March 2006