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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Chinese 'create Wal-Mart union'
Man with shopping trolleys outside a Wal-Mart store
Wal-Mart has been perceived as not being union-friendly
US retail giant Wal-Mart, which has drawn criticism over allegations it is union unfriendly, has reportedly seen staff in China start their first union.

The union was the initiative of some 30 Wal-Mart workers in the south-east province of Fujian, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has 60 stores in China.

In March, the company said it planned to hire an extra 150,000 staff in China over the next five years.

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart in China said she was unaware about the Fujian union.

'Push to unionise'

Wal-Mart, which started doing business in China in 1996, has previously said that its employees are free to set up unions if they wish and has insisted it conforms with Chinese law.

Wang Zhaoguo, president of All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) - which was established by the ruling Communist Party and claims some 150 million members - has been putting pressure on Wal-Mart.

At the start of July he singled out the firm for failing to establish unions at its stores, while also suggesting it should be compulsory for foreign companies to set up unions for employees.

The Wal-Mart workers were reported to have set up the union in Jinjiang, Quanzhou, in Fujian province.

"One of the major tasks of the ACFTU in 2006 is to push foreign-funded or transnational companies to unionise," Xinhua quoted Xu Deming, the union's vice-president, as saying.

New stores

Wal-Mart has attracted criticism in the US and Canada for its perceived anti-union stance, and there have been union pickets outside its North American stores.

Independent trade unions are illegal in China, with all workers belonging to ACFTU.

However, labour analysts say the ACFTU has had a poor record in improving worker rights.

China is a major source of cheap goods for Wal-Mart's US operations, with $18bn of merchandise sourced there in 2004.

But in terms of Chinese outlets it has lagged behind Carrefour of France, which has 78 stores, although there are plans for Wal-Mart China to build 18 to 20 new stores during 2006.

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