Yu Youjun, governor of north China's Shanxi Province, on June 22 apologized over the forced labor scandal and promised further crackdown on the illegal practices.
"I feel compunction and heart-stricken over the scandal. On behalf of the provincial government, I apologize to the victims and their families, as well as all the people in Shanxi," said Yu.
Yu said, "As Shanxi governor, I'll take the blame on the scandal that infringed the rights of farmer workers and children", which "caused bad influence in and out of China".
Yu's apology came two days after he made a formal admission of error at a conference of the State Council, China's cabinet, chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao.
The Shanxi provincial government was ordered at the cabinet conference to step up investigations into the scandal and compensate the victims.
The government of Hongtong county, Shanxi, has dispatched work teams to 12 provinces to call at the victims' homes with letters of apology, due salaries as well as compensation.
Each of the 31 workers who were forced to work at the illegal kiln in Caosheng village will get 1,410 yuan for each month in thekiln, three times the Shanxi minimum salary of 470 yuan.
A total of 32 rural laborers were lured from railway stations by a 42-year-old Heng Tinghan with promises to help them find jobs. One worker died in November 2006 while others were rescued by police on May 27.
The laborers were forced to work more than 15 hours everyday on poor food. Dogs were used to prevent them from escaping. Many received burns and other injuries working in the hot kiln.
Wang Bingbing, owner of the Caosheng village kiln, Heng Tinghan and three others have been arrested and prosecuted, according to Sun Baoshu, vice minister of labor and social security.
Sun said the scandal reflected indifference and dereliction of duty among some governments and officials at the basic level.
Primary investigations have also found some government and law-enforcing officials took part in the operation of illegal brick kilns, abusing their power for personal gains, according to him.
China will launch a large-scale nationwide investigation on laborers employed in small kilns and collieries, Sun said.
Lawbreakers that illegally employ children, force people to work or maliciously injure workers will be severely punished, he added.
Shanxi has struck a blow at the root of illegal brick kilns by enacting new rules that ban cheap bricks.
Solid clay bricks, which are made of clay from arable land in small kilns at very low cost, will be banned for use in municipal-level cities from the end of next year and replaced by environment-friendly cinder blocks.
The decision comes as the government moves to attack the economic circuits that allow forced labor practices to exist.
Other measures have been taken to prevent forced labor cases from recurring.
Xi'an, a major city in northwest China, has permanently closed job agencies around its railway station that allegedly deceived rural workers and sent them to work as "slaves" in illegal brick kilns.
The forced labor scandal shows how backward some parts of this giant country are despite rapid economic development, experts said.
"The fact that China has become the world's fourth largest economy is better known to the international community, while problems such as a yawning income gap, poverty and unemployment are less visible," said Xia Xueluan, a sociology professor with Peking University, adding that the case is anything but exceptional.
Xia also stressed the function of trade unions. "Workers need their own organization, which is not an appendage of government, to negotiate with their working units," he said.