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The Narrative about Chinese Firms Exploiting Locals is more Complicated than Many Assume

As Chinese companies have become active in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the building of infrastructure projects, they’ve earned a reputation for paying their local workers badly in comparison to their Chinese colleagues. But the authors of a new study have found that the reputation is undeserved, at least in Ethiopia and Angola, where the study was conducted. Carlos Oya from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and and Florian Schaefer from Kings College London conducted interviews with more than 1,400 workers in the two countries to discover whether it was true that Chinese firms consistently underpaid local workers—and what that even meant. “The most cited—and most widely discussed—literature on working conditions in Chinese firms in Africa tends to emphasise poor and often ‘worse’ working conditions, even when it is not clear what the comparator is, whether ‘average’ conditions in the host country or comparable foreign firms,” Oya and Schaefer wrote.