[press release]

Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) and Coke Concerned Student Group (CC Student Group) met Cola-Cola and Swire Beverages on 17 December for the issue of dispatched labour in China. It was the first time Coca-Cola and Swire Beverages invited CC Student Group for dialogue since its establishment in December 2008. Conversion plan of dispatched labour to regular employee and labour rights training were the two main agenda items of the meeting. Regreattably, there was no substantive outcome after the 3-hour meeting.

Prior to the meeting, SACOM has been exchanging letters with Coca-Cola and Swire Beverages since Xiao Liang, one of the student-worker, was seriously wounded by labour agency staff in August 2009. From the responses of Coca-Cola and Swire Beverages on 20 October and 28 October respectively, the two companies requested to meet with CC Student Group and SACOM. In the letter, Swire Beverages promised to convert the dispatched workers who have been working over 1 year in their 7 bottling plants in China into regular workers. Both CC Student Group and SACOM took this promise seriously and perceived it as a milestone for the end of usage of dispatched labour in Coca-Cola facilities across China. For this reason, CC Student Group and SACOM accepted the invitation.

“The usage of dispatched labor by Coca-Cola is lawful and reasonable,” May Zhai, Director of Public & Communication Affairs of Coca-Cola, stressed.

Indeed, the Labour Contract Law spells out 3 conditions for the usage of dispatched labour, namely temporary, auxiliary, or substituting, in article 66. Referring to the 3 grounds, CC Student Group cited examples to examine the lawfulness of the usage of dispatched labour in Coca-Cola and Swire Beverages’ facilities. It pinpointed that the there were dispatched workers continuously working in the bottling plants for 3 to 10 years, and majority of workers in the same production line were dispatched workers. Regardless the findings of CC Student Group, Coca-Cola gave the same conclusion, there was no problem with using dispatched labour. Hence, it was unnecessary to discuss about conversion plan.

Whereas, CC Student Group and SACOM appreciated Swire Beverages affirmed that the conversion would be the policy of the company. Disappointedly, when we asked for the details of the conversion plan, no concrete step was unveiled. Also, Swire Beverage reiterated that it would continue to use the dispatched workers as the industry was of seasonal nature. Therefore, it had to hire temporary workers in the peak season. However, the CC Student Group refuted that the usage of dispatch workers were throughout the year including in low season.

CC Student and SACOM noted that workers at bottling plants did not equip with adequate knowledge of labour laws and work safety. Comprehending efforts of CC Student Group and other non-governmental organizations cannot substitute the role of workers in rights-defending, we demanded the Coca-Cola and Swire Beverages to conduct labour rights trainings for all workers in the bottling plants. Further, we urged the companies to publish the curriculum of the training to increase transparency. While Swire Beverages was more open with the suggestion, Coca-Cola did not give any pledge and stated that training curriculum was internal management of the company.

“I am disappointed about the meeting, how can we have dialogue again if there is fundamental difference on the usage of dispatched labour,” Wang Wei, one of the representatives of CC Student Group, expressed.

“How can we trust the words of Coca-Cola and Swire Beverages without seeing any concrete step by the two companies? Inevitably, the CC Student Group has to conduct investigations in the facilities of the two companies. SACOM and our international partners will keep up pressure on dispatched labour which is abused by the two companies,” Debby Chan, Project Officer of SACOM, stated.

CC Student Group and SACOM made the decision that we will not have next round of meeting with Coca-Cola and Swire Beverages until they bring up concrete proposals for labour rights training and conversion plan for dispatched labour.

Contact person:

Debby Chan, Project Officer

Tel: (852) 2392 5464

Email: debby@sacom.hk

Website: www.sacom.hk