Nine Dragons opens up plant to answer critics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 May, 2008, 12:00am

Cheung Yan, China's richest woman and chairman of Hong Kong-listed Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings), has marked down her handling of the controversy that erupted last month over her company's labour practices.

'I cannot say I got 100 as my response to the sweatshop critics was delayed for several weeks due to an overseas roadshow,' said Ms Cheung, who scored her handling of the matter at '70 to 80'.

'But ... we are not a sweatshop. Otherwise I would have ended my trip immediately,' she added.

The comments came during a visit to Nine Dragon's Dongguan factory last week arranged by Ms Cheung in response to a report by a group called Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom).

The report branded Nine Dragons a 'shameful' company that 'turned blood into gold'.

The report said that based on interviews thousands of Nine Dragons' outsourced workers were not entitled to dormitory accommodation, weekly days-off, overtime payments or pensions.

Ms Cheung disputed the accusation that Nine Dragons - which is the largest producer of containerboard products in China - exploited its workers.

'A survey by the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions showed that our monthly salaries range from 1,500 to 2,400 yuan, which is higher than the Dongguan city average of 960 yuan. And only 7 per cent of our employees get fewer benefits than the city's average,' Ms Cheung said.

'We will continue to add benefits such as dormitories and canteens for employees,' she said.

Nine Dragons says it has 7,000 employees in Dongguan, 400 of whom are outsourced and signed up with external companies.

The comments were cautiously welcomed by Sacom. 'Nine Dragons should publish a timetable for its plan to change outsourcing staff to contract staff,' said spokesperson Yau Tse-wai. 'It's too early to grade its response and we will continue to monitor the company.'

Ms Cheung said: 'I don't want to be regarded as a tycoon. I am just an entrepreneur who has to be responsible to shareholders, employees and the society. I will try my best ... but I can never satisfy all the people.'

Kong Xianghong, the vice-president of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions, said: 'According to our investigation, Cheung's factory has some management problems but cannot be called as a sweatshop. The workers are generally satisfied with their salary and benefits.'