Hundreds of employees of a Nike and Adidas subcontrator protested in front of their factory on April 5. Photo published on Weibo. 
In Dongguan, in southern China, the workers of the world’s largest producer of athletic shoes are seething. They accuse their employer, the Yue Yuen corporation, of making them sign contracts that fail to provide any kind of social protection.
Flanked by policemen, several hundred Yue Yuen employees protested in front of their factory in Dongguan on April 5, blocking traffic for several hours. The conflict is related to contracts that the workers signed when they were first hired, as well as the social benefits they were supposed to receive.
Indeed, as the local media have reported, these workers recently discovered that their employment contracts carried no legal weight in the eyes the local authorities. Workers that had been employed at the factory for many years realised that they had been declared as “temporary workers”, which has the effect of taking away a chunk of their social security.
The Yue Yuen company is a subsidiary of Pou Chen, a Taiwanese group that is the world’s largest producer of athletic shoes. Yue Yuen employs 60,000 people in Guangdong province, and is a subcontractor for world-famous brands such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, and Converse. The Dongguang factory is famous for having been visited in 2004 by Michael Jordan, who came to inspect the production of a sneaker line bearing his name.
Michael Jordan visiting the Yue Yuen factory in Dongguan in 2003. Photo published on
When reached by phone by FRANCE 24, a Yue Yuen spokesperson claimed that it was up to the local authorities to review its classification of labour contracts and the rights of local and migrant workers. He also indicated that negotiations were ongoing between the local government and employees, and that a solution should be reached before April 14.

"Migrant workers need valid contracts in order to send their kids to school"

According to our Observer Zhang Zhiyu, who runs an NGO named Chunfeng that advocates for migrant workers’ rights in Guangdong province, this type of conflict is very frequent in the region’s factories.
Many companies make their employees sign contracts that have no legal weight because this allows them to get around minimum wage legislation.
In Guangdong, migrant workers must also provide documents that prove they are long-term residents of the region in order to be able to enrol their children in schools. Such documents are typically work contracts, but if the local authorities deem a contract to be invalid, children are not allowed to attend school.
A new work code was enacted in 2008, but, due to the lack of independent unions that could help enforce it, the situation has not improved much since then. Workers are left to fare for themselves, and even though there has been a sharp increase in the number of strikes across the country in the last few years, very few of them have resulted in improvements.
In this employment offer published online, Yue Yuen promises recruits that they will be paid a minimum slary of 2,500 yuan (about 290 euros) and get housing, food, and health care.
Post writte with FRANCE 24 journalist Man Ho Kam (kam_manho).