BEIJING, December 14 - Authorities have shut down a factory in western China where 11 workers, most of them mentally disabled, were allegedly enslaved for years in deplorable conditions, state press said Tuesday.
The case, the latest example of labour abuse in the vast country, comes three years after the eruption of a major slavery scandal in which thousands of workers were found to have been forced to work in brick kilns.
In the western Xinjiang region, the 11 workers at a building materials plant put in long hours, suffered regular beatings and were given the same food as the dogs, the Beijing News said.
None of those employed at the Jiaersi Green Construction Material Chemical Factory were ever paid, the report said. Some of them had been working for up to four years.
Workers attempting to flee the factory were routinely beaten, the paper said.
According to factory owner Li Xinglin, the workers were legally contracted to work at the facility by an aid agency for the disabled based in Sichuan province, the paper said.
Li claimed he paid the agency a lump sum of 9,000 yuan (1,350 dollars) for the delivery of five of the workers and then an additional 300 yuan per worker per month, the paper said.
The agency was not officially registered in Sichuan, the report said, adding that police have issued an arrest warrant for the founder of the organisation, who remains at large.
In 2007, thousands of people were forced to work in brick kilns in the provinces of Henan and Shanxi, where they were subjected to regular beatings and near-starvation diets. 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.
Since then, similar cases of slavery have been reported sporadically around China, suggesting the problem has not been eliminated.
In May, police rescued 34 people forced to work at a brick kiln in northern China's Hebei province, state media reported at the time.
Eleven people have been detained for "using methods such as beating, electrocuting, intimidating, and restrictions on freedom, to force migrant workers to engage in heavy manual labour", the Yanzhao Metropolis Daily said.