Mengniu, the Chinese dairy company that was at the centre of a massive tainted milk scandal four years ago, is once again the subject of controversy. After completing an internship at one of its ice cream factories, a university student wrote a scathing report criticising the factory's hygiene and working conditions.
The report was briefly posted on the Chinese networking site Douban before the student’s account was deleted. However, it was reposted by many other Internet users, and created a shockwave across the Chinese Web. Most of these posts quickly disappeared as well. However, a few remain online.
In the report, the student explained that her university in the central Chinese city of Xi’an sent her and several of her classmates to intern at Tianfu Dairy, a subcontractor for Mengnui located in Inner Mongolia. What they found when they arrived there on June 2 shocked them. She said that the interns, who made up the bulk of the workforce, were forced to work non-stop for 12 hours a day at an assembly line, and were given only instant noodles and dry bread to eat. Some, she wrote, collapsed from exhaustion. But worse yet were the sanitary conditions. She furtively snapped photos, accompanied by scathing captions (translated by our Observer Sui, who alerted us to this report):
“I am sorry to tell you that these spoiled raw materials were recycled.”
“This man is standing on a box which will later be filled with ice cream cones.”
“The ice cream you are eating may have been dropped on the ground and picked up again. “
“Our university promised that between 4 and 6 of us would share a room; when we arrived we saw that it was 4 plus 6. The beds were uncomfortable and rickety; outside the window, there were piles of rubbish with flies all over them.”
Many of the students, she wrote, got sick and demanded to return to their university before their 10-day internship was over. However, she claimed their professors threatened to deprive them of their degree if they left, so they stayed until the end.
In the wake of this scandal, Chinese media outlets report that Mengniu dispatched personnel to the university to speak with the student. However, the student reportedly refused to be interviewed and said that she did not slander the company.
Blogger Wang Xiaoshan has been calling for a boycott of Mengiu for months now. But on Tuesday, he intimated that he was being threatened by posting this message on his Weibo microblogging account: “The screws are tightening. I will zip my lips for 15 days or longer on the subject of Mengniu.”
Last year, Mengniu admitted that some of its milk had been tainted with a cancer-causing substance; last week, the company fervently denied rumours that cow urine was added to its dairy products.
Currently, all discussions of Mengniu are being censored on Chinese social networking sites.