Coca-Cola China Refranchising Deal Sells Out Workers Rights
In mid-November, the Coca-Cola Company announced to refranchise their bottling operations in China to COFCO Corporation and Swire Beverage Holdings Limited. For fear of their employment stabilities and conditions being endangered by the new ownership, workers from the Coca-Cola bottling plants in Jilin, Chongqing, and Chengdu demanded to be laid off and compensated in accordance to the statutory severance payments. The workers also demanded that employment conditions and seniorities under the new ownership should remain unchanged. However, their demands were left unheard by the company and hence, the workers went on strike on November 21. On the same night, police arrived at the Coca-Cola Plant in Chongqing to quash the strike. A number of workers were injured in the mayhem and seven workers were arrested as a result, including a pregnant worker. According to various sources, the strike is still ongoing in Chengdu and first round of negotiation has already taken place on December 1, despite no progress was able to materialize from the meeting.
In a number of previous cases of mergers and acquisitions, workers’ rights were often sacrificed as a result. New ownerships would often apply various measures to force out workers from previous ownerships without recognizing their seniorities and replace them with workers under far inferior employment terms. For instance, soon after COFCO acquired the ownership of Le-Conte Chocolate in March this year, they managed to close down most production plants and instigated a massive lay-off. For fear of following the footsteps of the Le-Conte workers, the Coca-Cola workers organized themselves in collective actions to demand the Coca-Cola Company to buy out their seniorities before transferring to new ownerships.
According to the Human Rights Policy published by Coca-Cola, "The Company is committed to maintaining a workplace that is free from violence, harassment, intimidation and other unsafe or disruptive conditions due to internal and external threats." However, the violent treatment of the workers on the night of November 21 was a blatant violation of such proclamation. Moreover, the Policy also stated that, “Where employees are represented by a legally recognized union, we are committed to establishing a constructive dialogue with their freely chosen representatives. The Company is committed to bargaining in good faith with such representatives.” Thus, the HKCTU would like to strongly advise the Coca-Cola Company to adhere to the policy of their own decree and demand an immediate stop to all suppressions on the strike and initiate dialogue with the workers in good faith.
In solidarity with the striking Coca-Cola workers in China, the HKCTU staged a protest, joined by other representatives from labour organizations in Hong Kong, against the Coca-Cola Company at their Hong Kong head office. The Director of Public Affairs, Communication, and Sustainability of Coca-Cola China Limited, Ms. Florence Yu, received our petition letter and promised to pass on our demands to the management in China. The HKCTU will continue to closely monitor the situation and press the Coca-Cola Company to resolve the dispute in accordance with the international labour standards.