Jinan, China: Liu Pifeng is a wealthy man. The founder of a prosperous corporate law firm in this provincial capital, he drives the sort of black Chrysler sedan that proclaims personal success in China.
He does not, however, trouble to conceal his humble origins. In conversation he is apt to hike his suit trousers way up, following a summertime habit among Chinese working men seeking to cool their calves. And he attributes his squat physique to his childhood diet.
“I come from a peasant family,” Mr. Liu explains. “I grew up eating sweet potatoes, and now I look like one.”
His peasant origins have left another lasting influence, he says: sympathy for “ordinary people at the bottom of society who are so helpless.” And that was what motivated him to devote part of his law practice to a free legal-aid clinic for migrant workers.
There are 210 million such workers in China who have left their farms to build the roads, railways, and cities that have spurred this country’s breakneck economic growth and to work in the factories that have sprung up in their wake.
Chinese law, though, makes them second-class citizens – denied the social welfare benefits their urban cousins enjoy – and employers routinely exploit them.
In May, 19-year-old migrant worker Li Hai threw himself to his death from the roof of a building at electronics manufacturer Foxconn, which makes Apple’s iPad tablet computers, in the southern boom town of Shenzhen. He was the ninth company employee to kill himself this year … //
… In China, though, “natural justice” and “national law” do not always coincide, especially when it comes to migrant workers.
“The purpose of what I am doing,” Liu says, “is to bring national law into line with natural justice.”
But he picks his fights carefully, and his instincts are to stay on the safe side.
“Natural justice is the highest value,” he says, “but when it conflicts with national law, I quit. I do not fight against the law. If you are too radical, you get marginalized. It’s better to stay in the mainstream and try to change things gradually.
“Promoting the rule of law is a long process, and we can’t be in a hurry,” he argues. “But each time we help one migrant worker to use legal measures, that influences a group of people around him.
“It doesn’t sound spectacular,” he says, “but in the long term it will have a big impact.”
Migrants must get private healthcare, June 29;
350 mln migrant workers by 2050, report says, June 28, 2010;
on OneWorld.net, 29 June 2010;