Convicts for Export

NEW DELHI – China has devised a novel strategy to relieve pressure on its overcrowded prisons: employ convicts as laborers on overseas projects in the developing world. The practice has exposed another facet of China’s egregious human-rights record, which, when it comes to the overseas operations of Chinese companies, includes the government’s failure to enforce its own regulations.

China executes three times as many people every year as the rest of the world combined. Amnesty International has estimated that, in 2007, China secretly executed on average “around 22 prisoners every day.”

In addition to being the world’s leading executioner, China has one of its largest prison populations. The 2009 “World Prison Population List” compiled by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College, London, put the total number of inmates in Chinese jails at 1.57 million – larger than the population of Estonia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Swaziland, Trinidad & Tobago, Fiji, or Qatar.

The forced dispatch of prisoners to work on overseas infrastructure projects raises new issues regarding China’s human-rights record. It also adds a new element — the dumping of convicts — to its trade and investment policy, which has been much criticized for dumping goods.