According to Caixin, workers at a bottled water plant owned by Danone China, the French multinational food corporation headquartered in Paris, held a two-weeks strike related to the sale of a subsidiary, Robust 乐百氏, to a private company based in Shenzhen. Their grievances against the French multinational were raised in an open letter that has been widely circulated on the Weibo microblogging site.
The letter is of interest, because it contains allegations of the subsidiary’s non-compliance with the sustainability policy the Danone Group has adopted for the Chinese market. The sustainability policy for the Chinese market is available on the Group’s website at the page “social innovation“. Information about the Danone Group’s global sustainability policy is available here. The Danone Group’s position papers and policies on women empowerment, climate, palm oil, sustainable agriculture, forests, the environment, GMOs, animal welfare, and packaging are available here. The history of Danone’s investments in China is outlined here.
Robust (Guangdong) Drinking Water Co. Ltd. Guangzhou Branch Staff
An Open Letter to Danone China
To the Management of the China Danone Group,
We are the Guangzhou personnel of China Danone Soft Drinks and Water Division’s Robust Guangdong Drinking Water Co. Ltd. At present our company has a total staff of 69 people. Since the Guangzhou Branch of Robust Guangdong Drinking Water Co. Ltd. was established more than 10 years ago, we have conscientiously been at the company’s service, and the branch’s average yearly profit of more than RMB 12.000.000 is the fruit of the hard work of our workers.
For a long time, we have put up with factory overtime, working continuously for 23 hours on the longest workday, and reaching more than 100 hours of overtime per month. Annual leave has been used to compensate for the work time, requiring workers to get to work in the very first hours of the morning of statutory holidays to avoid payment of the 300 per cent overtime wage due on the statutory holidays. Danone and Robust have adopted all means to seek to maximize the interest of the company. In bearing the burden of work willingly, we only hoped to help Danone create more profit. We also take pride in our work at Danone Group, and we have a strong sense of belonging and a sense of honor towards Danone.
But on November 3, 2016, China Danone Soft Drinks and Water Division’s Robust Guangdong Drinking Water Co. Ltd. suddenly informed us that Robust had already sold the majority shares to a Shenzhen private company without first convening a meeting with the employees to inform them.
We have been working hard at Danone for more than 10 years, and more than half of the employees have enjoyed more than 10 years of service. Many employees were young men and women, and they have now become elderly men and women. Because of years of hard work, several employees have been suffering from osteoproliferation and other problems. But Danone, citing as a reason that the company name has not changed, violated the labor law by refusing to pay the severance pay provided for by the labor law, and directly deprived us of our right to freely chose whether to stay at Danone, go to Robut or leave Danone, which completely deviates from the corporate culture of “being people-oriented, open-minded, affinity and trust, enthusiasm and positivity”, puts to shame Danone’s self-styled title of “best employer”, and even more outrageous is that the company “China Danone Beverages” fundamentally does not exist, and it has nakedly cheated us and raped our feelings towards Danone!
We believe that:
1. Danone Robust has transferred some employees to Yili, while forcibly leaving other employees at Robust, violating the principle of fairness;
2. Before the sale, [Danone] has not communicated with the staff, it has not given employees the right to choose, it has strongly required employees to comply with this way of doing things, violating Danone’s corporate culture of “being people-oriented, open-minded, affinity and trust, enthusiasm and positivity”;
3. Under the management of Danone, Robust has required employees to work in excess of overtime, repeatedly violating labour law provisions, damaging the collective interest of employess, and this should no longer be tolerated.
4. Danone in China has maliciously evaded the labor law, at the same time when Danone changed the name of the company, it did not give us a compensation citing as a reason that while the labour contract had changed the shareholder had not. Now that Robust has been sold, it has not given compensation citing as a reson that while the shareholder has changed the labour contract has not.
The employees of our branch will come together to fight for their rights, therefore we submit the following requests to the company’s head office and factory:
1. Not to receive incentive payments;
2. We asks for severance pay, with annuities calculated according to 2n+1, with a level of severance pay calculated according to the average annual salary before taxes, and to be paid in one installment;
3. That the social insurance and housing fund contributions that have not been made for some workers be paid according to the rules, together with the outstanding overtime pay.
4. After the ownership has changed, we require that employees are guaranteed their employment, and that their tasks, pay, benefits, intensity of work do not change, that employees can autonomously decide to stay, and that a yearly salary adjustment of at least 5 per cent for each employee is maintained.
5. Because the company was sold, a loss of confidence in the brand by retailers and consumers may cause an uncontrollable impact, and cause the company not to meet its KPIs but, monthly, seasonal and yearly bonuses shall be delivered and not be less than100%.
6. That the disciplinary sanction against employee Fan Huarong be cancelled, and a written apology be made; that his salary as an employee be paid as usual for the time of suspension, that no retaliations are made against employees or their representatives after they have resumed work, that workers do not resume work until an agreement between both parties has been reached on this matter, and that under no reason does the company put pressure on employees, punishes, or dismisses them.
7. Employees who have been injured and have contracted occupational diseases as hearing loss, bone hyperplasia and lumbar disc herniation, and spondylosis during their period of work must receive special compensation.
8. Dual-career couples (husband and wife both working in the factory) and pregnant women need extra compensation.
Those above are the requests of our employees, please do reply to us before November 16.
We hope that Danone will carefully consider the demands of its employees, and we ask that Danone to longer use various means and various channels to suppress the workers, but to engage in dialog in good faith. We will equally appeal to the public, hoping that the outside world will pay attention to the the requests raised by our staff, and provide its support. At the same time, we hope that the higher level goverments and trade unions will supervise Danone, and respond to our requests, guaranteering our labour rights.
Robust (Guangdong) Drinking Water Co. Ltd. Guangzhou Branch Staff
14 November 2016
A copy of this open letter is sent to the French Headquarters of the Danone Group, the Asia-Pacific Headquarters of the Danone Group, China Danone, the Guangzhou Labour Departments at all levels, and the trade union.