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Wal-Mart concedes China can make unions
Updated: 2004-11-23 21:52

Under pressure from the Chinese labor federation, the world's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said Tuesday it would permit branches union in its Chinese stores if employees requested it.

"Should associates request formation of a union, Wal-Mart China would respect their wishes and honor its obligation under China's Trade Union Law," said the Bentonville, Ark.-based company in a statement faxed to news media.

"Currently, there are no unions in Wal-Mart China because associates have not requested that one be formed," the statement said.

The 123 million-member All China Federation of Trade Unions last month threatened to sue Wal-Mart and other companies based outside China if they don't set up union branches in their China operations.

The federation did not immediately respond to telephone or faxed requests for comment.

The unionization drive was the latest attempt by the union the sole body permitted to organize workers in China to penetrate the most dynamic sector of the economy, shore up its declining membership, and boost its lowly political status.

Wal-Mart, which operates 39 stores in China employing 20,000 people, didn't say what specifically prompted its announcement. But it did note recent media coverage about the company's relationship with the union and said the statement was intended to "clarify that relationship."

"Wal-Mart is currently in full compliance with China's Trade Union Law, which states that establishing a union is a voluntary action of the associates," the statement said.

Wal-Mart has no unionized stores, although workers at a Wal-Mart in Canada recently had their union accredited by the local labor board. Wal-Mart was expected to fight that ruling.

The retailer has more than 4,300 outlets in nine countries employing more than 1.3 million people.

It sourced $15 billion worth of products in China last year.

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