All Wal-Mart outlets in China must eventually allow trade unions, a senior official with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has said.
The remark by Guo Wencai, director of ACFTU's department of grassroots organizations, came less than a week after a Wal-Mart store in Jinjiang, Fujian Province in East China became the first Wal-Mart outlet with a trade union.
"This is only the beginning. Our goal is to spread trade unions to each and every Wal-Mart outlet," Guo was quoted as saying by Wednesday's Beijing Daily.
Wal-Mart, the world's leading retailer with 1.6 million employees in 16 countries and regions, has a tradition of not allowing trade unions in its outlets, for which it has been widely criticized by human rights and labor organizations.
With mounting pressure from the ACFTU and the public, Wal-Mart gave in in 2005, when it said in a statement that "should associates request the formation of a union, Wal-Mart China would respect their wishes and honor its obligation under China's trade union law."
The trade union at Wal-Mart's Jinjiang outlet was formed last Saturday after 30 employees appealed to the local federation of trade unions. It is the first trade union among Wal-Mart's 60 Chinese outlets, which employ a total of 23,000 people.
Sources at Wal-Mart headquarters, however, told the Beijing Daily that they have yet to receive an official notice from ACFTU concerning the Jinjiang trade union.
Asked if Wal-Mart outlets in Beijing and other regions are also going to set up trade unions, the unidentified source said they would respect the wishes of employees.
ACFTU's Guo refuted Wal-Mart's claim that their employees had not asked for trade unions because the company provides them with a good welfare package.
"Trade unions are not simply about workers' economic interests, they also have to do with political, cultural and democratic rights," he said.
"Even if no one asks for it, a trade union must exist," Guo said.
According to ACFTU officials, about 26 percent of China's 150,000-odd overseas-funded enterprises have so far established trade unions, with a total membership of 4.29 million.
ACFTU said it plans to boost the ratio to 50 percent by the end of 2006.