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Chinese investment and European labor: should and do workers fear Chinese FDI?

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The rapid increase in Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) into Europe raises important questions about the implications of such for workers and organized labor in Europe: (1) does Chinese FDI flow more or less to regulated labor markets than do other investment sources?; (2) what are the strategies of works councilors and union representatives in dealing with real or expected investment from China?; and (3) how do individual workers view the propriety of Chinese FDI given China’s low-wage, labor-unfriendly profile in the global economy? Quantitative and qualitative data on Chinese FDI, individual opinions about China and globalization, and on strategies of labor representatives provide some leverage to preliminarily answer these questions. First, Chinese FDI does not seem to be more (or less) focused on investing in the least regulated labor markets than other sources of FDI. Second, interviews with works councilors and union representatives in Germany, France and the Netherlands affirm a cautiously optimistic view of Chinese investors as no more or less threatening to organized labor than other investors. Third, analysis of attitudes about Chinese and European interests in managing globalization suggest that less-skilled, more vulnerable, pro-labor-union workers in Europe tend to be more rather than less enthusiastic about Chinese management than their fellow citizens. These patterns suggest a surprising, if tentative, embrace by workers and their representatives in Europe of that investment.

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  1. The international activities focus on providing training to Chinese unionists, organizing trips for German union people to China, and running seminars at home on the labor implications of German outward FDI to China.

  2. CFDT’s nationwide reflection on industrial policy comprises the issue of attracting foreign capital, but Chinese investment is not dealt with separately from other extra-EU investment.

  3. In the full sample (including Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, and Luxembourg for which the labor-protection data is unavailable), Cyprus is 1 % higher (at 53 %) than Hungary’s average.


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Correspondence to Brian Burgoon.

Appendix: List of interviews

Appendix: List of interviews

  • Interview no.1: Heinrich Sürken, chairman central works council, Miele, North-Rhine Westphalia, July 3, 2012

  • Interview no.2: Jürgen Apfel, local union leader, IG Metall Coburg, Bavaria, July 3, 2012

  • Interview no.3: Wolfgang Müller, regional union leader, IG Metall Bavaria, Munich, July 25, 2012

  • Interview no.4: Josette Allart, local union leader, CGT, Pays de Gex, September 13, 2012

  • Interview no.5: Céline Gillier, regional union leader, CFDT Rhône-Alpes, Lyon, December 13, 2012

  • Interview no.6: Niek Stam, FNV regional union leader Rotterdam Harbor, Netherlands, October, 2012.

    Table 2 Summary statistics

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Burgoon, B., Raess, D. Chinese investment and European labor: should and do workers fear Chinese FDI?. Asia Eur J 12, 179–197 (2014).

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