On Action 在行动 ∗ China

Photo Source: On Action Website
Ma Yang, founder of On Action Source: Emilia Szekely
On Action 


Beijing, China

Support for migrant workers with the help of ex-migrant volunteers who provide them with consultancies for labor disputes, psychological issues, etc. and help them to find employment, offer training courses and promote their rights.

On Action supports migrant workers to improve their living conditions by promoting their rights, offering training courses and advising them in urgent situations through a free hotline.


A challenge faced by the authorities of Chinese cities is to learn how to deal with more than 280 million migrant workers, — resulting from the inequality of job opportunities that exist between rural and urban areas — so that their rights are guaranteed and good living conditions are achieved both for them and for the rest of their inhabitants. In this sense, what most of these governments have done is to reinforce measures to discourage migration, ranging from making access to basic services difficult for those who do not have their residence permit (hukou), to very complicated relocations of both public and private institutions to decentralize.

Several of these measures affect the experience of migrants, who, although having a higher level of education than in previous generations, continue to suffer from labor abuses, difficulties in accessing justice, health and education services, discrimination, language barriers, etc.


In 2006, a group of these migrants founded ON ACTION. This non-governmental organization created a toll-free hotline service that migrants in Beijing, Wuhan and Suzhou can use to request counseling in urgent and immediate situations – to get a job, resolve legal disputes, defend social and political rights, solve health problems. On Action offers this advice thanks to the collaboration of a staff of around 10 people and more than 300 volunteers, all of them ex-migrants.

Once the contact is established, the migrants are invited to be part of the volunteer network that cooperates with each other, donates things (guitars, bicycles, etc.), and organizes through the initiative’s site and other Chinese internet platforms such as QQ, Weibo, and Wechat.

With the support of this network and in addition to the on-line consultancies, On Action organizes activities to expand the opportunities of this population to adapt and improve their living conditions in their destination city. These include:

  • psychological care
  • book loans through a mobile bookstore
  • badminton,
  • ping pong,
  • karaoke,
  • health training,

courses on how to:

  • use a computer,
  • get a job (write a CV for example),
  • develop cultural skills such as theater,
  • defend labor benefits,
  • select and organize representatives to negotiate as a group with the employers (collective bargaining).

It also encourages members of the network to engage in public benefit activities — planting trees, donating blood — that help to organize and improve their surroundings. To date, more than 14,000 people have participated in these activities.

The initiative promotes the rights of migrants and works to raise awareness of their conditions through activities such as:

  • public performances,
  • the publication of research and,
  • the training in Corporate Social Responsibility to companies, governments, and civic organizations. This includes guidelines to help promote the organization of their members or employees, to establish a free internal hotline for them, to respect their labor rights. In the opinion of Ma Yang, founder of On Action, Corporate Social Responsibility helps companies to improve their image and comply with the stipulations of the law. Yet, the vast majority of companies that have shown interest in it and have searched for their advice have been foreign (including Nike).

The work of On Action is complementary to that of the government in its interest to ensure the best conditions for this vulnerable population. This is because of the sheer number of migrants it serves (more than 34,000 to date) and because the services it offers are much more comprehensive and integrative thanks to the professional (lawyers, doctors, sociologists, social workers) and cultural diversity of its network of volunteers.

On Action’s intervention in labor disputes and promotion of the rights of this sector have made it difficult to obtain financial support that usually comes from foundations and foreign embassies. On Action also collaborates with volunteer organizations of universities, hospitals, the justice bureau, unions, news agencies and other government agencies, which in addition to financing support it with coursestraining, and know-how. All these associations, coordinated by a department exclusively responsible for public relationships, allow the initiative to work project by project and ensure the gratuity of its services.

To ensure accountability and transparency in the management of its resources its board of directors is monitored by a board of supervisors equivalent in rank. In addition to this, its activities and decisions are published on its website and social networks — which also serves to receive feedback on the initiative.