From the Wall Street Journal (via Wake-Up Wal-Mart):
As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pushes into China, its reluctance to allow unions into its stores here is moving the company toward a potential showdown with the government and its biggest trade-union group.
The looming confrontation has big implications for the discount retailing giant and for other Western businesses doing business in China. Wal-Mart has long resisted unions in the 15 countries in which it operates, but it cannot afford to stumble in the world’s most populous nation.
This part sounds like typical Wal-Mart duplicity:
In 2004, the ACFTU publicly identified foreign companies that hadn’t unionized. Many companies on the list bowed to pressure and agreed to allow their employees to unionize, which boosted the union group’s membership significantly. Wal-Mart attracted headlines for agreeing to work with the group.
The company now says that it did not agree to unionize, but to abide by a Chinese law barring companies from obstructing workers from forming unions. Mike Duke, chief executive of Wal-Mart International, said early this month that as far as he knew, no Wal-Mart worker at any of its 58 stores in China had expressed an interest in forming a union. A company spokeswoman said subsequently that some workers may have discussed it, “but it takes more than scattered interest for the company to be required by law to respond.”
And I think this part is just hilarious:
“We pay our workers to take care of customers,” says Wal-Mart spokeswoman Beth Keck. “We clearly can’t permit a situation where workers are free to engage in political discussion during the work day.”
Earth to Wal-Mart: China is a communist country. Workplace relations are at the very epicenter of Chinese politics.
When I was in China last year I sat down with the Marxist Studies department at the university I was visiting and asked them, “Does America have anything to fear from China? “Yes,” was their unanimous answer. The Chairman then explained to me that Deng Xiaping’s contribution to Marxist philosophy was that China had to develop a market economy so that it could generate enough wealth to eventually distribute to the entire population.
Inviting Wal-Mart into the country is part of that stage. Eventually, the government will get around to a seizure of assets that will make Fidel Castro’s look puny by comparison. Play with fire and you may get burned. But Wal-Mart isn’t just playing with fire; they’ve practically staked their future growth prospects on China. Just today, they sold off their South Korean division to focus more on the Chinese market.
I can see why Beijing and Bentonville are getting along swimmingly for now though. Neither one believes in a truly free market.