Signs human rights are moving slowly up the agenda in corporate China

From food scandals to poor conditions in factories, the corporate human rights record of Chinese companies is poor. Could new laws and public calls for accountability be helping?

Recently the headlines in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been full of the scandal of the Taiwanese firm Chang Guann, which supplied cooking oil blended with gutter oil (recycled waste from sources like restaurant drains and discarded animal parts). The oil products containing high levels of carcinogens were being used by over 900 restaurants in the region. The company was fined TW$50 million (£1m). The head of Chang Guann, Yeh Wen-hsiang, apologised and drank a cup of the oil.

Such food safety scandals are just one example of the negligence of human rights (in this case the right to health) by companies in the region. The poor working conditions for millions of migrant workers at Chinese suppliers to big electronic brands such as Apple and Samsung, and repeating episodes of protests against major power plants over displacement and pollution are signs of growing public discontent about corporate behaviour. These problems and what to do about them are likely to come up in conversations this week as executives gather for the 2014 CSR Asia Summit in Hong Kong.

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