Five More Stella Shoe Factory Workers are Sentenced to Up to Three Years

Press release, China Labour Bulletin, 16 November 2004

Imprisonment following Mass Protest in April

China Labour Bulletin today learned that another five former employees of a shoe factory owned by the Taiwanese company Stella International in Dongguan city, Guangdong Province, have been sentenced to up to three years' imprisonment. Two of the five convicted workers were below the legal minimum working age when hired by the company, and only one of them is currently older than 20.

All five were convicted by the Dongguan Municipal People's Court of intentional destruction of property in connection with a mass protest in late April by workers at the Xing Xiong Shoe Factory, one of seven such factories in southern China owned by Stella International.

The sentences, which have not yet been publicly announced by the court, were as follows: Liu Jufei, 29, Ding Kui, 19, and Liu Rongneng, 19, were each sentenced to three years' imprisonment, while Geng Chunfei, 16, and Liu Haiyang, 16, were each sentenced to two years' imprisonment, suspended for three years.

Instead of scapegoating these five workers, the Dongguan legal authorities should be investigating the abusive employment practices that led to the Stella workers' mass protest six months ago, said Han Dongfang, the director of China Labour Bulletin. The government's failure to enforce China's own labour laws is the real source of the growing labour unrest in many parts of the country today, added Han.

On the evening of 21 April, more than 4,000 workers staged a protest at the Xing Xiong Shoe Factory over low wages, wage arrears and the poor meals provided at the factory's canteen. The problem that directly sparked off the protest was the factory's decision to reallocate the workers' overtime hours from the weekend to weekdays, resulting in substantially lower overtime rates being paid. Some machinery and company equipment was damaged, as the workers' action turned rowdy.

In late October, five workers from another Stella factory in Dongguan—the Xing Ang Shoe Factory—were sentenced to up to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment on similar charges following a protest by around 1,000 workers there on 23 April, just two days after the Xing Xiong factory protest. For further information, see Five Stella workers sentenced to up to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment.

In a letter sent to the Dongguan Court on 23 October— just days before the first set of sentences were handed down—Stella International's top management asked that lenience be shown to the five Xing Ang worker defendants. Moreover, several of Stella's main foreign buyers—including Reebok, NIKE, Cole Haan, Sears, New Balance, Timberland and Jones Apparel Group—endorsed this plea for leniency by adding their company's names to the letter.

Stella International's top management issued a public statement on 30 October saying that the company was saddened by the decision of the Dongguan Court and that they believe the violent strike which occurred at the Stella factory and Selena factory this April was a tragedy for all parties involved. In a welcome gesture, the company pledged that it would pay the minimum wage to the families of the workers during the length of their sentence and that it would support an appeals process for the sentenced workers.

According to CLB sources, however, lower-level managers at some of Stella's other factories have recently been misinforming the workers—presumably in an attempt to forestall any further protest incidents—that those convicted in the Xing Ang factory protest trial were sentenced to as long as 10 or 15 years' imprisonment.