By  on April 21, 2014

SHANGHAI — A strike involving tens of thousands of workers at factories of one of the world’s largest sneaker producers in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan has now spilled over into manufacturing facilities located in another province.

At least 2,000 workers in Jiangxi, a province in north central China, are striking at a factory operated by the Taiwanese-owned Yue Yuen Holdings Ltd., which makes shoes for a number of global brands, including Adidas AG and Nike Inc. Lin Dong, an employee of the Shenzhen-based labor rights nongovernmental organization Spring Breeze, said the workers in Jiangxi decided to protest to “support their colleagues in Dongguan.”

It continues to appear there is no immediate end in sight to the protests, which began in early April at Yue Yuen’s Dongguan factory over employee benefits. The protests, initially small, escalated earlier last week to what some labor rights organizations estimate to be at least some 40,000 workers. Yue Yuen has not responded to repeated interview requests.

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Adidas said it is continuing to monitor the situation. A Nike spokesman said the company is “continuing to monitor the dialogue between factory management and the workers, as well as production at the factory [in Dongguan].”

Labor rights groups say this is one of the largest worker protests in recent Chinese history.

When reached by phone, some employees declined to speak to foreign reporters out of concern their communication was being monitored by the government. The Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin said there continues to be a heavy police presence in Dongguan and that some employees have been detained. Mass protests are illegal in China, while labor unions not sanctioned by the government are also forbidden.

Late on Friday, the government-backed Guangdong Provincial Federation of Trade Unions said on its micro blog account that it has sent staff to Dongguan to engage in the negotiation process between Yue Yuen and employees.

While the scale of the protests in Dongguan, and now in Jiangxi as well, is perhaps unprecedented, they are not a new phenomenon here. Increasingly, blue-collar workers have been showing a willingness to stand up for their rights — whether it be higher wages or safer workplaces. According to China Labor Bulletin, the number of worker protests in China this year is up by a third.

The Yue Yuen employees say the company has been shortchanging them by failing to make adequate payments to their social insurance accounts. According to the state-run CCTV news agency, the strike has exposed loopholes in the country’s social security scheme, as well as the growing pressure on manufacturers to keep up with rising labor costs. CCTV said in a report that Yue Yuen is offering cash rewards to try to lure employees back to work.

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