Workers rally behind Wahaha

By Wang Zhenghua (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-06-13 08:25
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Workers rally behind Wahaha

Wahaha employees in Shanghai yesterday hold a banner saying, "We want Zong Qinghou. We oppose Danone". The employees were angry over an alleged takeover bid by Danone of its Chinese partner. [newsphoto]

Dozens of Wahaha employees took to the street yesterday to protest the alleged takeover bid by Groupe Danone SA of its Chinese partner.

Wearing yellow shirts and holding the banners, the protesters, who work for one of the companies' joint ventures, stood in front of a hotel where a Danone-organized news conference was scheduled, shouting "Oppose Danone" and "Boycott Danone".

"They expelled our boss," one employee said, referring to the recent resignation of Zong Qinghou, former chairman of the joint ventures and founder of Wahaha.

"We have been following chairman Zong for many years. We've learned from Danone'sacquisitionof Chinese beverage maker Robust that there is no happy ending for employees in a hostile takeover," another worker said, adding that the protests were spontaneous.

The group gathered at about 9 am yesterday and was dispersed by police one hour later.

Danone, which holds 51 percent of 39 joint ventures with Wahaha, presented a much different picture of its five-month dispute with China's largest beverage maker. The company accuses Zong of illegally producing and selling products identical to those sold by the companies' joint ventures, in violation of agreements between the two companies.

Emmanuel Faber, Danone's managing director for Asia and interim head of joint ventures, pointed out that Zong, walking away on his own volition, has once again used public opinion to serve his personal interests.

"This mode of interaction is really consistent with Zong's communication and strategy since the early part of the discussions," he told reporters during the news conference yesterday in Shanghai.

"Basically, he was trying to leverage media, the public, employees, distributors and the government to support his themes," Faber added.

Faber hinted that the protests yesterday were orchestrated by Danone's Chinese partner.

"You think the group of people that tried to prevent me from attending this news conference in front of this building has learned by themselves that Danone has a news conference this morning here?" he said.

"This simply means that there is obstruction being constantly made so that Danone can protect the interests of joint ventures and their shareholders, including the government of Hangzhou."

He added: "If I cannot freely access this public building, can you imagine if I'm trying to push open the door of (joint venture) factories just to be told that I cannot be there?"

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