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China amends law on excessive packaging

BEIJING, Feb. 29 -- Following a vote by lawmakers Wednesday, China's legislature approved the amended version of the Law on the Promotion of Clean Production, which stresses efforts to cut down on excessive packaging.

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) upon the conclusion of a three-day bimonthly session adopted the amended law after further review by lawmakers to the draft first tabled October last year.

President Hu Jintao has issued an order to publicize the amended law, which will take effect on July 1.

The amended law stipulates that enterprises should package their products in a manner that "well fits the content's quality, size and cost and makes less packaging waste."

During the design process of products and packages, enterprises should take into account what influence they will exert upon human health and environment and give preferred consideration to plans that use packaging in a non-poisonous, harmless, degradable and recyclable way, according to the amended law.

China has seen public outcries over excessive packaging, which not only causes unnecessary waste of resources and environmental pollution but also pushes product prices up, said Wang Guangtao, a legislator.

Excessive packaging fosters extravagance and corruption, he said.


The previous law did not clarify the duty of government organs in conducting compulsory review over clean production-oriented measures implemented by enterprises, according to Wang.

The amended version tightens the system of reviewing corporate steps pertaining to clean production by government organs, an effort to make enterprises more responsible.

The amended law stipulates that enterprises whose pollutant emissions exceed limits set by national or local rules, whose energy consumption per unit product is too high, or whose production or emission process involves poisonous or harmful materials, will be applicable to compulsory review by authorities.

In addition to clarifying government organs' supervision responsibilities, the amended law clearly demands that concerned enterprises should report their clean production measures and results to local government and also make the measures and results public through local media.

The central government will also set up a special fund to support clean production-oriented technological improvement in key sectors and projects, according to the amended law.

Wang believes that if implemented well, the amended law will greatly boost the country's industrial upgrading and restructuring drive.

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Human rights underlined in procedure law revision

BEIJING - After the last revision 16 years ago, China amended the Criminal Procedure Law and highlighted human rights protection, eight years after the principle was explicitly written in the Constitution.

The National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament, adopted the amendment Wednesday with overwhelming votes at the closing meeting of annual parliamentary session, presided over by NPC Standing Committee Chairman Wu Bangguo.

The phrase of "respecting and protecting human rights" is written in the revised law's first chapter on aim and basic principles.
"The highlight of this revision is to better embody the constitutional principle of respecting and protecting human rights," said Wang Liming, deputy president of Renmin University of China and an NPC deputy.

Personal freedom should be honored as the most essential human right, Wang said.

The revised law stresses protecting suspects and defendants from illegal restriction, detention and arrest, which is an important contribution to protecting personal freedom of every citizen, he said.

China's current Criminal Procedure Law was enacted in 1979 and first amended in 1996.

Over the past years, many lawmakers submitted motions and suggestions urging the law's revision, and law enforcement departments also expressed similar opinions.

Since China is in a transition period with prominent incidence of conflicts, problems emerging in judicial practice require the law to be improved, said Prof. Chen Weidong, from the Law School of Renmin University of China, who took part in drafting the amendment.

Several high-profile cases, in which innocent people were convicted of serious crimes, have exposed weakness in law enforcement, especially concerning forced confession.

In 2010, the story of Zhao Zuohai, a villager in central Henan Province, roused national sympathy as he had spent ten years in prison for murdering a man who was actually alive.

Zhao was acquitted and released from prison after the supposedly murdered victim showed up alive. That led to the arrest of three former police officers for allegedly torturing Zhao into confessing to a crime that never happened.

In the revised law, it is written that no one would be forced to prove their own guilt, together with provisions on how to rule out illegal evidence.

For the first time, the law makes it clear that confessions extorted through illegal means, such as torture, and witness testimony and depositions of victims obtained illegally, such as by violence or threats, should be excluded during the trials.

Besides articles on illegal evidence, provisions on the procedure of collecting evidence and summoning witnesses to court will also effectively curb torturing practices, Chen said.

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Charity law 'vital' for sector to grow

China should speed up legislation on the charity sector to ensure that more grassroots organizations can gain legal status and charity fraud is outlawed, top lawmakers and political advisers have proposed.

The current regulations on social organizations in China require that a non-governmental organization must find an administrative body to oversee its activities as a precondition to registering with the civil affairs authorities as a nonprofit organization.

Beijing Huiling Community Services for People with Learning Disabilities, an organization dedicated to integrating mentally handicapped people into the community, has unsuccessfully tried to register with the local civil affairs authorities for the past 12 years.

"We asked the Beijing Disabled Person's Federation to act as our superior, but it refused, claiming that our organization was too small," said Meng Weina, the head of the organization.

"We were treated like a ball, kicked around by different government departments and were not recognized as a nonprofit organization, so we had to register with the industry and commerce authorities as a company," said Meng.

"Without a legal identity as a charity organization, we cannot enjoy tax exemption, and it's difficult for us to raise fund from enterprises or the public as we cannot even provide a formal receipt to our donors," she said.

"Our bank account was 340,000 yuan ($53,754) in the red last year, and even paying our employees' salaries has become a problem," said Meng.

Official statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs show that there are 450,000 registered social organizations across the country.

Experts estimated that more than 1 million social organizations in China have a "gray" existence out of the government's sight.

"At present, it is not easy for charities to register. Asking these organizations to affiliate to governmental departments results in administrative intervention in the charities' operations," said Wang Liming, a professor of civil law at Renmin University of China, who is also a deputy to the National People's Congress.

"No registration also means that many charities are inadequately supervised, and some even commit fraud," said Wang.

"Therefore, it is essential to have a law to ensure transparency in the charity sector," he added.

Yang Lan, a CPPCC member who is also the head of the Sunshine Cultural Foundation, urged the authorities to further relax the registration system and provide an equal legal status to all nonprofit organizations.

"Besides kindness and love, performing charitable acts also needs a complete legal system and the enhanced transparency of charity organizations," said Yang.

China only has one law on the charity sector, the Law on Donations for Public Welfare, enacted in 1999, said Wang Ming, director of the NGO Research Center at the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University.

"As the charity sector becomes increasingly sophisticated, the existing law has failed to provide effective solutions for issues such as mixing charity with business," said Wang Ming, who is also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee.

Yang echoed Wang Ming's remarks and said that the charity law must clarify reasonable ways to maintain or increase the assets of nonprofit organizations to avoid unnecessary disputes over such issues.

Wang Ming said that legislators should introduce a public hearing mechanism to allow sufficient discussion during the legislative process.

"The law concerns everyone, so we hope the NPC can seek advice from diverse channels, including donors, recipients and representatives of charity organizations when discussing details of the draft law," he said.

Lan Lan contributed to this story.

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Labor contract law needs to be amended

The Labor Contract Law should be amended to better regulate labor outsourcing, a practice that is overused and leads to inequality in the workplace, legislators said.

Under the law, which came into effect in 2008, employment agencies can be established to provide companies with workers for temporary, subsidiary and substitute positions.

These workers should receive the same pay as employees doing the same jobs for the same employers, it says.

Outsourced workers do not sign labor contracts with the companies they work for but with employment agencies. The agency pays the workers' wages while they charge employers commission and management fees.

"It's very common that outsourced workers do not receive the same pay or enjoy the same benefits as employees in the same posts in the companies. Labor outsourcing has been greatly overused in China," said Wang Ronghua, a deputy to the National People's Congress.

A report released last year by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the nation's top trade union organization, said there were more than 60 million outsourced workers in the country, accounting for almost 20 percent of the total urban workforce.

In other countries, labor outsourcing usually accounts for 2 to 3 percent of the total urban workforce, Wang Zhenlin, a senior official with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, was quoted as saying by the Economic Observer.

State-owned enterprises and government-affiliated public institutions and industries such as petrochemicals, telecommunications, finance and banking were the major employers of outsourced workers, according to the trade union report.

Zhou Yue (not her real name) works for a construction design firm affiliated to a State-owned company in Beijing.

"I have been working for the company for three years but my salary is much less than regular employees and the employer does not pay into the housing fund for me. I sometime even have a heavier workload than many regular employees do. It's not fair," she said.

In China, employers and employees collectively pay into a housing fund that helps cover housing costs.

"It's easy for employment agencies to reach an agreement with employers about outsourced laborers' wages and social security benefits. As far as I know, many agencies just pay into workers' social security accounts a sum equal to 60 percent of urban residents' average wages," said Wang Ronghua, the NPC deputy. Some employers even dismiss workers and then reemploy them via agencies to lower costs, he said.

The more a worker pays into the social security account, the more benefits they can receive during work and retirement.

Jiang Jian, another NPC deputy, said: "The law should clearly state that workers in same positions, with the same titles, doing the same work, and achieving the same results as regular employees, ought to enjoy the same wages and benefits," she said.
Agencies and employers that violate the clause should be ordered by the labor authorities to make up the gap and also pay compensation, she added.

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NPC adopts revision to Criminal Procedure Law

BEIJING - The National People's Congress (NPC),China's parliament, adopted the revision to the Criminal Procedure Law at the closing meeting of its annual session Wednesday.

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