China shelter `sold 70 disabled people into slavery`

The workers were given the same food as the dogs belonging to factory boss.

Beijing: The operator of an unlicensed shelter for disabled people in southwest China sold at least 70 mentally ill workers into slavery in recent years, local authorities told state press on Wednesday.

Investigators made the discovery after China`s latest slave labour scandal erupted this week when authorities shut down a factory in Xinjiang in the nation`s west where 11 workers sold by the shelter had been enslaved for years.

"Since 1996, Zeng Lingquan has sent at least 70 mentally disabled people to work in Beijing, Tianjin and other cities," the China Daily quoted Yi Hongqu, a county-level civil affairs official in Sichuan province, as saying.

"Zeng does not even know the names or the exact number of those abused."

Yi said investigators found the number 70 in a 2008 account book kept by Zeng, who was arrested on Monday night on charges of selling workers into slavery.

The case comes three years after a major slavery scandal in which thousands of workers were found to have been forced to work in brick kilns in central and northern China.

Police on Tuesday also arrested Li Xinglin, the owner of the Jiaersi Green Construction Material Chemical Factory in Xinjiang, who was attempting to return the enslaved workers to the Sichuan shelter, the report said.

Li claimed he had contracted the workers from the shelter, paying a lump sum of CNY 9,000 (USD 1,350) for the delivery of five labourers and then an additional CNY 300 per worker per month, earlier press reports said.

The workers worked long hours in polluted and unsanitary conditions, suffered regular beatings and were given the same food as the dogs belonging to the factory boss, the Beijing News said.

None of those enslaved at the factory was paid, the reports said, and some of them had been working for up to four years.

They were between 20 and 50 years old but the nature of their mental illnesses or disabilities was not specified.

Xinhua later reported that five local government officials had been punished over the scandal, including a Communist Party official.

In 2007, thousands of people were found to have been forced to work in brick kilns in the provinces of Henan and Shanxi, where they were subjected to regular beatings and near-starvation. The revelations shocked the country.

Although no official numbers have been reported on how many were enslaved, a parliamentary investigation said some 53,000 migrant workers had been employed in more than 2,000 illegal brick kilns in Shanxi alone.