Labor, Faith, Human Rights Leaders Call for Changes to US Aid to the Philippines

International Labor Rights Forum

The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) joined 236 faith, human rights and labor leaders today in calling on the US Congress to attach human rights conditions to any foreign military aid to the Philippines. US union leaders from the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Communication Workers of America and others signed a letter delivered to members of Congress raising concern about human rights abuses committed by the Philippines military using US taxpayer funding.

The Philippines has been called the second most dangerous country in the world for union organizing, second only to Colombia.

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Nestlé threatens Hong Kong Strikers with Disinvestment

According to the International Business Times of Hong Kong Nestlé has threatened over 100 striking workers at its headquarters in Yuen Long (New Territories) that if their strike continues, the company will not rule out withdrawal or out-sourcing production from Hong Kong.

If Nestlé were to carry out this threat, it would surely be to relocate on the Chinese Mainland, where it already operates dozens of profitable factories. It is evident that Nestlé would prefer not to have to deal with a real union capable of struggling for higher wages. As reported on 20 July on this blog, Nestlé fired a worker at its Nescafé plant in Dongguan for daring to petition for new union elections. A top Nestlé manager is also the chairman of the local “union” at the Dongguan plant.

It seems that the global giant Nestlé believes that workers are incapable of learning from each other’s experiences in other countries. Nestlé might do better to recall the consequences of its own arrogant behavior. In 2003 Nestlé tried to break a strike at its only coffee plant in Korea by threatening to close the plant and relocate to China. The unintimidated workers continued their militant strike, and together with national (FKTU)and international union federations (IUF) filed an OECD complaint (The OECD represents the major industrialized countries) in Switzerland and Korea that Nestlé’s threat expressly violated the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Corporations. The resulting international pressure on Nestlé aided the Korean union to negotiate an excellent strike settlement.

UPDATE: Just after this article was posted, the Nestlé milk delivery workers in Hong Kong accepted a management offer for a 6.5% increase in their commission rates, and ended their strike.

Indian Workers Battle Nestlé

205 workers at Nestlé India’s Samalkha factory in Haryana state went on strike 4-5 July to protest the suspension of their union chairman Bijender Singh Gahlan for organizing non-disruptive protest actions including wearing black armbands and boycotting voluntary social functions. The union was demanding wage adjustments to compensate for the soaring cost of foods, including Nestlé’s own products.

The Nestlé Employee union at the Moga factory in Punjab state organized solidarity for the Samalkha union by boycotting the canteen and demonstrating outside the factory gates. Coordinated action among local unions at Nestlé India is a relatively new phenomenon.

Like other global food and drink companies, Nestlé is looking to rapid growth in its already profitable operations in India, China, Russia and other large emerging markets to offset stagnating markets and profit margins in Western Europe, Japan and the USA. Nestlé workers organizing and fighting for their rights in emerging markets threaten the company’s global strategy.This is the context in which Nestlé has systematically tried to quash union rights.

Update: On 21 July the striking workers at Nestlé Samalkha suspended their strike for six weeks pending an investigation by the State Labor Commissioner into the suspension of the union chairman, and the results of a tripartite inquiry into their claim for wage adjusments for inflation. The company agreed to pay wages for the last eight days of the strike.

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.

SEIU California Cleaners Show Solidarity with Nestlé Russia Workers’ Struggle

SEIU Cleaners at Nestle USA headquarters
In the midst of a difficult contract campaign for the janitors servicing commercial buildings in California (including Nestlé USA headquarters in Glendale), members of SEIU Local 1877 showed their solidarity with the union struggle at the Nestlé factory in Perm, Russia by distributing leaflets and displaying banners on April 16.

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