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ICEM, Rhodia Conduct Work Visit to China as part of Global Framework Agreement

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21 October, 2007

ICEM principals and leaders of French chemicals company Rhodia journeyed to China from 8-12 October, as part of monitoring the Global Framework Agreement between the company and the Global Union Federation. Rhodia operates two plants in China and the purpose of the visit was to inspect working conditions in the plants, as well as work terms.

General Secretary Manfred Warda and Chemicals and Rubber Officer Kemal Özkan represented the ICEM, while Rhodia’s CEO Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, Sustainable Development Director Jacques Kheliff, and Group Vice President of Corporate Communications, Lucia Dumas, represented the company.

The delegation met with Chinese leaders of the company at Rhodia’s regional headquarters in Shanghai, toured plants in Lyang and Zhenjiang, and met with chemical, energy, and mine leaders of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) in Beijing.

China leads Rhodia’s Asia-Pacific region in sales growth, which, in total, gives the company €938 million of its sales. Korea comes second, while Japan is third.

In Shanghai, the ICEM learned that all Rhodia workers have written individual contracts, and, in the plant in which the ACFTU is present, a collective agreement is in place. That agreement is not negotiated, but rather only signed by the official ACFTU representative in the plant. The ICEM was critical of this, but company officials did state a willingness to engage with a partner representing all workers’ interests in negotiations.

The Lyang plant, which produces chemicals for the auto and electronics industries, is now 95% owned by Rhodia and employs 570 workers, of whom 350 have signed long-term employment contracts. The ACFTU’s Chemical, Energy and Mine Workers’ Industrial Union is active in the plant.

The Zhenjiang plant is currently just going on-line with 67 workers, the majority of whom are engineers. It is a diphenols plant, using Rhodia technology to produce non-chlorinated guaiacol for the food industry. Since it is currently in start-up phase, there is no union present. At both plants, located in Jiangsu province, ICEM and Rhodia officials were informed about products, technology, safety, health and environmental matters, salary and social benefits, staffing, and local community relations.

On the final day of the visit, the delegation met in Beijing with leaders of the ACFTU and Chemical, Energy, and Mine Union, through arrangement with the local office of Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The session was attended by ACFTU’s deputy chair of the International Department, Zhang Tao; Jia Ziaodong, president of the 15-million-member Chemical, Energy, Mine Union; and Qingyi Li, ACFTU’s officer for European Affairs.

A main point of discussions was China’s new labour contract law – to be effective on 1 January 2008 – and a law which the Chinese labour federation strongly supported and had great input on. The ACFTU criticized the US Chamber of Commerce for standing firmly against enactment of the law, and ICEM’s Warda outlined the ICEM position.

That stance, adopted at the May 2007 Executive Committee, stated some multinational companies from developed nations were working against adoption of the law, which gives some semblance of workplace rights and job security to Chinese and migrant workers. Rhodia senior officials at the meeting said the company supported enactment.

A meeting at the French Embassy in Beijing concluded the final day of the visit.