Wal-Mart officially recognizes its first trade union in China

American retail giant bows to Communist authorities in return for access to massive Chinese market


Beijing (2 August 2006) - Wal-Mart has bowed to pressure from the government of China and agreed to recognize its first union in the world's most populous country.

Apparently the lure of future billions of future Chinese profits was enough to convince the anti-worker American retail giant that bowing to official pressure and dealing with a union would not be such a hardship after all.

The union, undoubtedly the first of many that Wal-Mart will have to deal with in China, was established on July 29 in Quanzhou, which is located in Fujian Province.

The development came after more than two years' efforts by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) to pressure Wal-Mart to recognize the right of workers to organize in the 59 outlets it has now established around the country. According to Chinese law, enterprises or institutions with 25 employees and more are encouraged to deal with workers through trade unions.

150 million union members

The ACFTU has a membership of 150 million in a total of 1.174 million branches. In 2006, it has plans to establish 120,000 branches more across the country, adding 13 million new members to its roles. One of the major tasks of the ACFTU this year is to pressure foreign-funded and transnational companies (such as Wal-Mart) to allow unionization.

Wal-Mart currently employs some 23,000 people in China. One of the main functions of Wal-Mart operations in China is to produce low-cost goods for sale elsewhere around the globe.

The company acknowledged last November it would have no choice but to begin dealing with unions in order to do business in China. Over the next five years it is planning to expand rapidly, adding an additional 150,000 Chinese employees.

Wal-Mart has conceded that it will have to work closely with "associates" (a pretentious label Wal-Mart uses to describe its employees) and with government authorities to "ensure full compliance with China's trade union law."

Chinese law gives all employees the right to join the ACFTU. In turn, the union is closely tied to government authorities.

In Canada, the National Union of Public and General Employees is supporting a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) to organize Wal-Mart workers across the country. NUPGE