China is now rated as one of the 10 worst countries for human rights

A new study rating 196 countries has found that the human rights situation is worsening worldwide; especially in important emerging economies, including China.

China now features as one of the 10 countries with the worst human rights records, according to the Maplecroft Human Rights Risk Atlas 2011.

The research evaluates countries on their performance across 30 human rights categories including: human security, labour rights and protection, civil and political rights and access to remedy. It is developed by Maplecroft to calculate the risk of complicity in human rights abuses for companies operating worldwide.

According to Maplecroft, there are now 92 countries in the ‘extreme’ and ‘high risk’ categories as opposed to 83 last year, a rise of nearly 10%.

Most significantly for business, given the major role it plays in supply chains, China has fallen two places in the ranking from last year to 10th and joins DR Congo (1), Somalia (2), Pakistan (3), Sudan (4), Myanmar (5), Chad (6), Afghanistan (7), Zimbabwe (8), and North Korea (9) as the countries with the worst human rights records.

The emerging economies of Russia (14), Colombia (15), Bangladesh (16), Nigeria (17) India (21), Philippines (25) and Mexico (26) have also seen their scores worsen and are featured in the ‘extreme risk’ category.

China’s poor ranking in the overall index reflects the dire situation found across several core human rights areas, where the country is ranked worst or joint bottom of the league. These include violation categories such as freedom of speech, the press and religion; minority rights; judicial independence; and arbitrary arrest and detention. The country also ranked bottom for trafficking and forced labour violations and scored badly for child labour too.

Labour rights violations, especially in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, are commonplace in China due to weak and inconsistent enforcement of labour laws, said Maplecroft. With the introduction of the new Labour Contract Law in 2008, the situation is slowly improving as Chinese work forces demand better pay and conditions.

The Chinese government reportedly monitors and harasses labour rights organisations and political opponents, lawyers are disbarred for taking on politically sensitive cases and victims of human rights abuses are obstructed in seeking redress.

China’s performance is compounded by the actions of state security forces acting with impunity, which take part in extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrests, added Maplecroft.

“The worsening of the human rights landscape in fast growing emerging markets is a worry for business,” said Maplecroft CEO, Professor Alyson Warhurst, also a member of the UN Global Compact’s Human Rights Working Group. “The UN’s Special Representative has proposed that companies are responsible for respecting human rights that are impacted by their business activities. They will increasingly be required to exercise due diligence including undertaking human rights impact assessment and human rights monitoring. The Human Rights Risk Atlas supports such monitoring.”

India, which is important to the telecoms, manufacturing and agriculture sectors, performs particularly badly in the area of labour rights protections, according to the index. It is ranked joint worst for child labour, forced labour and discrimination and 7th for trafficking, which includes the use of girls in bonded labour and sexual exploitation. The government's 2004 national survey estimated the number of working children from aged 5-14 at 16.4m. NGOs, however, claimed the number of child labourers was closer to 55m.