Mary Gallagher, International Institute Director and Alan and Amy Lowenstein Professor of Democracy, Democratization, and Human Rights, provided testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth on July 14, 2021. The hearing, focused on "Defending and Investing in U.S. Competitiveness," was led by Senators Elizabeth Warren (chair) and Bill Cassidy (ranking member). Professor Gallagher submitted written testimony, delivered remarks, and participated in discussion with subcommittee members and other expert witnesses. Her key findings include:

  • Over the course of the last two decades, China’s workplace laws and policies have expanded considerably to improve employment security and access to social insurance. Since 2009, the Chinese government has expanded basic pension and medical insurance to both rural and urban residents.
  • However, laws and policies ‘on the books’ are weakly enforced. They often leave out workers from rural areas, informal workers, and workers in the new digital economy. New social insurance policies based on residency, not employment, are shallow and insufficient.
  • Income, health, and educational inequalities between rural and urban citizens threaten China’s shift to a new development model that is built on domestic demand and consumption. Short-term gain by cutting employers’ costs risks long-term damage to China’s ambitions to become a technologically advanced and innovative economy.
  • An ongoing crackdown on civil society and social activism has impaired Chinese workers’ ability to protect themselves. Labor NGOs, lawyers, and other social activists have been targeted in waves of crackdown to silence grievances and social mobilization.
  • In light of new concerns about China’s demographic challenges, the Chinese government has relaxed its restrictive population policies. Women are now encouraged to have two children, but face increasing discrimination at the workplace and lack access to affordable early childcare.
  • There is ample evidence that in addition to forced detention in re-education camps, China’s Muslim minorities are also being forced to work in factories or other worksites located nearby. Forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been linked to global supply chains.

Mary E. Gallagher is an expert in Chinese politics, law and society, and labor politics. Her most recent book is Authoritarian Legality in China: Law, Workers and the State, published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.