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Enterprises Punished for Failure to Protect Workers
China has closed down or ordered production suspended at more than 12,000 enterprises that failed to protect employees from a poisonous working environment since a nationwide law enforcement campaign began in May, a Ministry of Health official said Tuesday.

During the drive, officials from departments of health, labor and public security investigated more than 48,800 enterprises across the country, finding almost one quarter of those had violated laws on labor safety and occupational disease control, the official said.

Most of the enterprises, mainly privately owned and small, produced shoes, suitcases, leather products and furniture, and frequently used chemical adhesives.

Wide use of substandard adhesives caused large emissions of poisonous components such as benzene. Excessive inhaling of the chemicals could be life threatening, said Su Zhi, deputy director of the ministry's Department of Law and Supervision.

To make the situation worse, workers at many factories were barely protected from the hazardous environment, said Su, who also heads an office overseeing the national investigation.

The campaign was triggered by a series of labor force accidents last March, in which five workers at suitcase factories in Hebei Province died from benzene poisoning after long-term exposure.

Similar fatal cases were also reported in Beijing, as well as Guangdong, Zhejiang and Shandong provinces where private manufacturing is booming.

Although China had enforced laws on labor safety and occupational disease control for a long time, violation of workers' rights remained common due to poor law awareness, Su said.

More than 11,000 businesses were warned, fined or ordered to suspend production pending improvements, and 981 others were shut down during the campaign.

The drive would continue next year, Su said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 11, 2002)

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