Nestlé Violates Worker Rights in China

In March 2008 management at the large Nescafé plant at Dongguan (Guangdong province of China) fired worker Wang Jianjin for distributing leaflets and soliciting signatures from co-workers calling for a new union election.

The incumbent “union chairman” Zhang Junfeng had been serving for 12 years without an election. Zhang was also the top executive of Nestlé’s Nescafé China arm, and therefore responsible for the decision to fire Wang.

Nestlés blatant exercise in management-dominated “unionism” comes at an awkward time. This incident was covered in the China Daily, which also reported that the ACFTU is launching a campaign to establish trade unions in 80% of the Fortune 500 Global firms doing business in China. Chen Weiguang, the reforming chairman of the trade union federation in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, hopes to make that 90% in his city by September. But the chief problem of “union representation” at foreign-owned firms in China is as much that of quality as of coverage.

After all the Donguan Nescafé factory already had a “union” and Nestlé worker Weng Jianjun was already “represented” by the union chairman responsible for firing him. The mere establishment of union branches at global firms like Nestlé means little to Chinese workers unless they can exercise their union rights without fear of retaliation. It will be important for the Chinese municipal and provincial labor federations to pursue the case of Weng Jianjun and organize free union elections at the Dongguan Nescafé plant, and for all of us to put international pressure on Nestlé to respect worker rights.

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