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Coca Cola plant accused of Hepatitis B discrimination

A major Coca Cola bottling plant in China stands accused of discrimination after a prospective employee was allegedly refused a clerical position after testing positive for Hepatitis B.

Hangzhou Zhongcui Foodstuffs Ltd, a major soft drinks manufacturer invested in by Coca Cola and the Swire Group, is Coca Cola's main bottling plant in Zhejiang Province, employing around 2,000 people and producing global brands such as Coca Cola, Sprite and Fanta.  In 2005, it was named Coca Cola's "most outstanding" bottling plant in China.

In February 2007, the 27 year old woman applied for a job as a "sales operations clerk" (xiaoshou yunzuo wenyuan) at Hangzhou Zhongcui Foodstuffs.  She took three written examinations on three separate days and passed all three.  A manager in the Hangzhou Zhongcui personnel department informed her that if she passed a routine medical check at the Hangzhou No.3 People's Hospital, they could go ahead and sign an employment contract. The results of the medical revealed that she was a Hepatitis B carrier but that her liver function was normal.  On 26 February, she took the results of her medical check to the personnel department at Hangzhou Zhongcui and was told point blank that it was "company policy" not to hire Hepatitis B carriers.  She stressed that her job had nothing whatsoever to do with food production and as such she posed no risk but the company still refused to employ her.

China Labour Bulletin, as part of our ongoing campaign to aid victims of Hepatitis B discrimination in China (see: Responding to Hepatitis B discrimination in the workplace) has helped the plaintiff find a lawyer who is currently preparing an anti-discrimination lawsuit on her behalf against Hangzhou Zhongcui Foodstuffs.

Both Coca Cola and Swire claim to be good corporate citizens.  Indeed, Coca Cola has a specific clause in its Supplier Guiding Principles entitled; "Eliminate Discrimination. Maintain workplaces that are free from discrimination or physical or verbal harassment. The basis for recruitment, hiring, placement, training, compensation, and advancement should be qualifications, performance, skills and experience."

Moreover, Coca Cola is very active in promoting HIV/AIDS programmes in Africa and stresses that "HIV positive employees are not treated any differently than their other colleagues, and extensive protocols and standards are in place to protect information related an associate's counseling care, treatment and benefits."  Yet in China, one of its major suppliers is apparently openly discriminating against people living with Hepatitis B, a virus that is spread in almost exactly the same way as AIDS, through the direct exchange of bodily fluids.

Swire's Corporate Social Responsibility programme also makes it very clear that the company is "an equal opportunities employer, we offer our staff competitive remuneration packages, foster their career development, provide them with safe and healthy workplaces, and actively consult them on a variety of issues."