Binance’s New Charity Head Ran a Factory Where Workers Made Less Than $50 Per Month
10.10.2018

Binance is not known for its transparency. The world’s largest crypto exchange has been accused of charging at least 400 BTC ($2.6 million at current rates) to list new coins on the platform. And while CEO Changpeng Zhao denies the claims, he has provided little insight into how much money Binance demands for services.

Yesterday Binance sought to grab the news cycle by announcing that all future listing fees will go directly to its charity arm, the Blockchain Charity Foundation (the fees have been rebranded “donations”). The news was picked up by many industry sites and met with praise and skepticism on Twitter.

So far, details about the exact structure and operation of the Blockchain Charity Foundation are patchy. The website is more of a holding page than a detailed document, and the only contact channel provided is an email address: bcf@binance.com.

But one detail has been made known: the identity of the woman who will head the charity, Helen Hai.

Hai previously served as a UN Industrial Development Organization goodwill ambassador to Africa, so has some relevant experience for the job. She also had a prior role as CEO of the Made In Africa Initiative, and as cofounder of C&H Garments, a company that employs workers in Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda to produce clothing for export.

Some parts of her resumé paint her as less charitable, though.

Before founding her own company, Hai worked for Chinese shoe manufacturer Huajian Group, which operates a large factory in an industrial zone outside Addis Ababa, and which has been criticized for the conditions it imposes on employees in both China and Ethiopia. (Hai’s LinkedIn profile lists her position as group vice president, CEO of Overseas Investment from August 2011 to July 2013.)

Last year, Huajian Group made headlines when a Chinese activist was arrested after going undercover to investigate labor abuses at a factory in China. The story was notable because shoes from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line were being produced in the factory; the allegations investigated by activist Hua Haifeng included below minimum wage pay, verbal abuse of workers, and the use of derogatory language towards female employees.

There are suggestions that some of the same conditions were present in the Ethiopian factory which Helen Hai set up. In a video news segment from 2012, Hai discusses Huajian Group’s factory in Addis Ababa. She explains that local workers will often spend all of their month’s wages within two weeks of getting paid. “This is typical lack of discipline,” she says. “In China, over the years, we’ve developed remedies to overcome this.”

In the video, workers can be seen marching outside the factory in a military formation while being instructed by a Chinese supervisor.

BREAKER reached out to Binance, but no one was immediately available for comment.

For workers, making wages last for a the month is easier if they are paid well to begin with. In 2012, a report from a French news station found that workers in the Huajian factory in Ethiopia made the equivalent of around $45 per month, making it difficult for them to cover living costs in the capital. In the news broadcast, the sum was described as around ten percent of what a Chinese worker would make for the same job.

At the start of the video, Chinese supervisors are seen using megaphones to shout “Faster, faster” to the Ethiopian workers. Helen Hai is interviewed by the camera crew as part of the report. (Hai is introduced as “la patron”, or “the boss”). Six years later, Huajian employees at the same factor told Associated Press that they were paid only $51 per month. And in 2013, while Hai presided over the factory, workers went on strike to demand a fair share of the profits when they were expected to fill an unusually high volume of orders, a Bloomberg report notes.

The Blockchain Charity Foundation claims to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, among them “poverty reduction”, “decent work and economic growth” and “reduced inequality within and among countries.” Indeed, Hai may well be able to help Binance make progress on those goals. But certain aspects of her track record deserve to be questioned in this respect, particularly where her values do not appear to have reflected the above.