Report uncovers widespread employment discrimination in Shenzhen

25 May 2010
Nearly 60 percent of companies in Shenzhen actively discriminate against prospective employees on the basis of age, gender, health, appearance or residency, a new investigative report has revealed.

Women suffer from a disproportionately high level discrimination, the report found, particularly in the service sector where “appearance” is regularly included in recruitment criteria.

The Shenzhen-based civil society group Hengping (深圳衡平机构) spent five months investigating jobs advertised at 1,560 companies in 103 different sectors and found that 868 of those companies used discriminatory hiring practices. Age was by far the most common barrier to employment with 68 percent of the 868 companies placing limits on the age of job candidates, typically 35 years-old or below. Some 37 percent of the 868 companies discriminated on the basis of appearance, 20 percent according to gender, 13 percent on heath, and six percent according to household registration (hukou) status.

Height requirements were regularly stipulated for jobs in service industries (a growth area in Shenzhen), with 41 percent of secretaries and front desk clerks, and 38 percent of shop assistants having to exceed specified heights.

Hengping cited the lack of effective legislation and outdated social attitudes as the main reasons for employment discrimination in the city. It noted that while some laws have provisions against discrimination in the workplace, China still lacked a strongly worded specific anti-employment discrimination law. It also noted that the concept of equal employment is relatively new to China and old attitudes related to hiring and firing employees are still deeply ingrained in society.

The report calls on the Shenzhen municipal government to eliminate discriminatory clauses in existing legislation and implement new legislation that targets employment discrimination in specific sectors. It recommends setting up a report and complaint system, and that trade unions, and other civil society groups, get actively involved in helping victims of discrimination obtain redress.

And Hengping cited civil rights advocate and visiting Yale scholar, Lu Jun, as suggesting that the authorities in Shenzhen use the city’s proximity to Hong Kong to its advantage when tackling employment discrimination. Mr Lu pointed out::

Shenzhen is next to Hong Kong; when it is opportune to do so, Shenzhen should draw upon the latter’s system and experience to establish equal opportunity bodies to mediate conflict and tensions and to fully mobilize various social groups in raising anti-discrimination awareness.
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