The Mozambican government this week suspended 20 Chinese employees of Wanbao Africa Agriculture Development, Lda for working in the country without permission. The Chinese employees were discovered by an inspection team from the Ministry of Labour, Employment, and Social Security, MITESS.
Wanbao, headquartered in China’s Hubei province, maintains large farming operations growing rice and maize on over 7,000 hectares of land near Xai-Xai, the capital of Gaza province. The company holds a 20,000 hectare farming concession in Gaza and has been described by the China Development Bank as “China’s largest agribusiness project in Africa.”
In May 2016, an inspection led to the suspension of 21 Chinese employees of the telecom company ZTE, and in March this year, Mozambique’s labor ministry suspended 34 employees of South African multinational Sasol who were working on the company’s oil and gas extraction projects in the province of Inhambane.
Zitamar View: Wanbao has come under criticism before from civil society organizations and local farmers who describe the company’s 20,000 hectare concession as a “land grab.” Yet the Mozambican government has defended the company as a source of employment, domestic food production, and agricultural technology transfer to Mozambican farmers. Wanbao’s use of illegal (and, the Inspector General alleges, underpaid) Chinese workers exposes the gaps between what Wanbao promised local partners and what they’ve actually received, undermining the government’s justification for supporting the company. Increased inspections and regulatory action may reflect that tension coming to a head.
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