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Coca-Cola exploits workers, students say
By Cui Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-20 07:48

A university student who got a temporary job at Coca-Cola this summer through an employment agency is taking the soft-drink bottler to court, after he was beaten by staff members at the agency.

He is alleging that Coca-Cola showed poor management by hiring agencies that exploit workers.

He said he was beaten by staffers at the agency after he demanded pay for his work at Coca-Cola.

Along with three other university students, the 21-year-old student surnamed Liang from Tianjin was sent to Zhongcui Food Co Ltd, a Coca-Cola bottling factory based in Hangzhou, after signing a contract with the Deqingzhiqiang employment agency in July this year.

The students' summer jobs were actually part of an undercover project to investigate the working conditions in Coca-Cola's plants.

The project was organized by a group of university students who published a report on the Internet last year on Coca-Cola's bottling factories. The students claimed that Coca-Cola turns a blind eye to illegal actions by their employment agencies and bottlers.

The students who worked at Coca-Cola this summer declined to give their full names or say which university they attend.

"A manager at the agency asked us to sign a contract stating that we will be paid the minimum wage of Hangzhou, which is 5.7 yuan (83 cents) an hour," Liang told China Daily yesterday. "But at the same time, he told us that we will only be paid 55 yuan for a day and we have to work 12 hours a day. We wonder how much Coca-Cola pays for the agency."

Zhen Zhiqiang, the agency's manager, said that the students are paid the minimum wage of Hangzhou and the students' claim that they were paid less than the minimum wage is not true.

The majority of the workers in the factory are temporary workers who are given no basic training when they start work, Liang said.

"Unlike the factory's full-time staff, we were given no protective gear such as gloves and ear plugs. We are also paid far less than them," Liang said. "Coca-Cola was seriously infringing the rights of agency workers by its poor management over the employment agencies and their factories."

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Liang and the other university students quit their jobs on Aug 8 and were promised they would be paid on Aug 14. But when Liang went to the agency office on Aug 12 to confirm the pay date, he was beaten up by the agency staff, he said.

Officials at Coca-Cola in China said the dispute does not involve Coca-Cola.

"We are very sorry about what happened to Liang, but the conflict is strictly between Liang and the employment agency. The bottling factory and Coca-Cola are not aware of the situation," Zhai Mei, the associate external affairs director of Coca-Cola China, told China Daily yesterday.

The company and its bottlers not only "strictly comply with the laws and regulations regarding labor practices", but also "have strict supplier guiding principles" for its employment agencies, according to a statement released yesterday by Coca-Cola.

"We are continuing our internal investigations and if we find any violations of our labor policies, we will correct them," Zhai added.

Liang is taking the Deqingzhiqiang employment agency to court over the pay dispute and he will also sue Coca-Cola for being ignorant about the practices of their employment agencies and subcontractors.

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