A total of 679 allegations of human rights abuses involving Chinese companies operating abroad were recorded between 2013 and 2020, a rights group said on Wednesday. A report from the London-based non-profit organisation Business & Human Rights Resource Centre found that, out of the 679 allegations, 1,690 human rights-related issues were identified – ranging from land rights, pollution and health, to the rights of indigenous peoples – as more than one issue could be identified from some of the allegations. The data was collected from local and international NGOs and media reports which cited concerns raised by workers, trade unions and local communities across the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Africa. It is unclear how many projects in total were involved. Pressure grows between African mineworkers and their Chinese bosses The centre said the numbers “illustrated the gap between policy commitments and practices of Chinese companies around the world”, and hoped to “assist civil society organisations to make informed decisions on their advocacy linked to responsible business conduct overseas”. The period documented covers the start of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, when President Xi Jinping unveiled his aspiration to expand Beijing’s influence through investments and infrastructure through a land-based “belt” running westward through Central Asia towards Europe, and a maritime “road” through Southeast Asia towards the east coast of Africa. The report did not identify whether all the projects it referred to were part of the belt and road plan. By early 2021, around 140 countries had signed up to the initiative. According to research firm Oxford Business Group, as of January last year, 2,951 belt and road-linked projects valued at US$3.87 trillion were planned or under way around the world. Of the 679 allegations recorded in the report, Myanmar had the highest number at 97 cases, followed by Peru with 60. Ecuador and Laos each accounted for 39 allegations. Cambodia and Indonesia also ranked highly, with 34 and 25 cases, respectively. Of the human rights issues identified, half involved concerns over inadequate disclosure of environmental impact assessments, violations of land rights, loss of livelihoods, labour rights, pollution, and health threats. Nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) of the other issues were concerned with protests, Indigenous peoples, beatings and violence, and security issues and conflict zones. “Among these are major projects such as Indonesia’s Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project, which faced delay due to financial and environmental concerns, and the China-Laos railway, which was linked to allegations of unsettled compensation for relocation and lost livelihoods for farmers,” the report said. In terms of the industries most at risk of human rights abuses, 76 per cent came from the mining, construction and energy (fossil fuels and renewables) sectors. “Chinese renewable energy investments overseas have gained momentum because of China’s pledge to meet targets under the Paris Agreement and to build a green BRI. However, human rights risks in the sector are also prominent, with 87 allegations (13 per cent) recorded,” the report said. The centre also said there was a “widespread lack of transparency and corporate accountability among Chinese companies”, with a response rate of 24 per cent from the 102 firms that were invited to respond to the allegations against their overseas operations. This compared to an overall response rate from other Asian companies of 53 per cent. Debt-trap diplomacy? Report finds China can cancel loans if displeased China’s belt and road programme has previously been criticised as a “debt trap” for developing countries, with questions raised about the sustainability of a number of Chinese investments and whether these projects can ever generate enough money to repay their costs. Beijing has insisted that there are no strings attached to belt and road loans and no intention of trapping developing countries through unaffordable loans. The belt and road scheme has also been revamped in recent years with an emphasis on high quality developments and green projects. China’s foreign ministry said last year that about 20 per cent of all belt and road projects had been “seriously affected” and another 40 per cent “adversely affected” by Covid-19. Despite the setback, Beijing has continued to push the initiative, saying its projects can “help countries preserve jobs and contribute to economic stability” in the wake of the pandemic.