Walmart‘s labor unrest has spread to China.
The company still makes lots and lots of products there, but increasingly is selling them too; Walmart just announced plans for more than 100 new stores and 18,000 job openings in China. In China the Walmart brand is more upscale than it is stateside, signifying the material hopes of the country’s growing middle class.
Enter Wang Shishu, a 52-year-old Walmart store employee, who has been agitating since the summer for better pay, benefits, and working conditions, organizing protests in the industrial center of Shenzhen. When he was fired, he began picketing his store with slogans like “Protest Against WalMart for Illegal Dismissal,” “Support for Reasonable and Just Demands of Workers,” and “Solidarity for Justice.”
Walmart’s been in the news a lot these past few months, and the news hasn’t been good. A company once synonymous with low prices, ambitious sustainability goals, and retail innovation, is now facing an international bribery scandal and repeated protests from Our Walmart, an organization of workers in the U.S. that claims 4,000 members.
The twist in the new Chinese woes for Walmart is that like most Chinese workers, Walmart employees are represented by a union; though normally aligned with companies over workers, it does provide a framework for grievances in the nominally Communist country. Shishu and his fellow workers also have the backing of SACOM, a Hong Kong-based labor advocacy group that has been active on behalf of workers at Apple’s Chinese suppliers. They are collecting crowdsourced donations directly for Shishu and also collecting information on working conditions at Chinese Walmarts for a report to be released soon.