Wal-Mart Stores Inc said yesterday it has agreed to cooperate with China's state-sanctioned labor group in creating unions at its 60 Chinese outlets.
The announcement follows the creation of unions at five of the company's Chinese stores and is a victory for the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the umbrella group for unions permitted by the communist government. The ACFTU had accused Wal-Mart of obstructing efforts to organize its 28,000 Chinese employees.
"Our mutual aim is to establish grassroots unions within each Wal-Mart store throughout China," a statement issued by Wal-Mart said.
China doesn't allow independent unions, and activists are frequently jailed and harassed. The ACFTU often is regarded not as an advocate for better pay and working conditions for employees but as an intermediary that represents employers to workers.
Wal-Mart is preparing to hold talks with the ACFTU on how to carry out union organizing, said Dong Yuguo, a spokesman at the company's China headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen.
"We will talk about how the Wal-Mart stores in China will organize unions," Dong said. "We will talk about how to work with the ACFTU in a more effective and cooperative way."
Dong didn't give any details of when additional union votes might take place, saying such work "will develop step-by-step."
Wal-Mart has few unions elsewhere in its worldwide operations.
The company's statement quoted Joe Hatfield, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Asia, as saying it hopes its relationship with the ACFTU is "prosperous for our associates and for the growth of our business."
In a possible effort to mollify Chinese officials, Hatfield invoked the phrase used by the government to describe its current campaign to ease tensions over China's growing gap between rich and poor.
"We believe this is conducive to China's effort to build a harmonious society," Hatfield said.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, opened its first store in China in 1996.