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Re: <nettime> China's New Left
Soenke Zehle on Mon, 26 Jan 2004 04:13:13 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> China's New Left


Worker organization may not be the only social-movement dynamic to look at,
nor will class most necessarily be the primary vector along which such
self-organization is likely to articulate itself. Consumer activism,
much-despised by authentic leftists for its lack of a radically
transformative vision, might just as well serve as an initial lever of a
newly-found political assertiveness. Anyway, a story that's been all over
the mainstream press is the one below, widely interpreted as an indicator of
an awakening Chinese 'civil society'. Who knows, maybe No Logo will come in
a distinctly Chinese format and take it from where these court cases leave
off? [2]

Greenpeace Int'l supports the anti-GM/Nestlé case by Eileen Zhu Yanling, and
in this context, maybe also see the recent (and somewhat suprising, only
makes sense to me in terms of the precedent this process will most
definitely create) US attack on Greenpeace. [1] It's all civil society to
me..., sz

[1] <http://www.tompaine.com/feature2.cfm/ID/9525>

      [2] access via Greenpeace International,
<http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/>]

      Zhu Yanling's Long March for consumer rights
      Chinese consumer challenges Nestle

            Wed 07 January 2004
            CHINA/Shanghai


            What motivated a mother from Shanghai to travel half way around
the world to global food giant Nestlé´s HQ in Switzerland? In March 2003
Eileen Zhu Yanling was shocked to discover from the internet that Nestlé´s
Nesquik milk powder, a product she had been buying regularly for her
three-year-old son, contained GE ingredients without this being indicated on
the label.


            Zhu's shock turned to anger as the thought of unknowingly
feeding her son GE food preyed on her mind and she decided to sue the
company for violation of her consumer rights. Zhu wrote to Nestlé
headquarters in September last year about inconsistencies in their labelling
policy but was not satisfied with their reply.

            Zhu's anger was compounded by her previous trust in Nestlé's
products. Nestlé was one of the first foreign food companies to become
established in China and Zhu grew up with Nestlé products. She had also
studied in Switzerland and was even taken on a tour of Nestlé's Vevey
headquarters by a friend. Zhu is aware of the strict GE labelling
regulations in Europe and feels very strongly that large global companies
like Nestlé, irrespective of national variances in these regulations, should
give the same information about ingredients to consumers whether they're in
Europe or China.

            "I am angry because Nestlé has not been truthful. This is
disrespectful to Chinese consumers. I believe Chinese consumers have the
right to know and to choose what they are buying for their families", said
Zhu in a letter she delivered personally on her visit to Nestlé's Swiss
headquarters on 16th December last year.

            In June 2003, Shanghai 2 People's Intermediate court accepted
Zhu's case and in August, with Nestlé China's agreement, the court
commissioned a laboratory to test Nesquik for the presence of GE
ingredients. The test was positive and was accepted as evidence by the
court. Nestlé subsequently commissioned another laboratory independently
without notifying the court. The results this time were predictably
negative. The court has refused to accept the results of the second test as
evidence. The date for the court hearing has yet to be set. Zhu is demanding
compensation of 13.6 yuan (about US$ 1.6) - twice the price of the product.

            Greenpeace has been campaigning globally to eradicate GE
ingredients from food products for many years. Many food products already
contain GE ingredients, so until these can be phased out and replaced by
natural ingredients we have been pushing for those products containing GE to
be labelled so that consumers can make an informed choice.

            We heard about Eileen Zhu Yanling's case in September and
committed to helping her take her concerns directly to Nestlé´s top
management on December 16th last year. At the meeting a Nestlé
representative told Zhu that they would continue to sell GE products
worldwide with the exception of Europe where consumer rejection is strong.
Nestlé's response has only strengthened her resolve to continue her fight.
"I am very disappointed by Nestlé's response. I have travelled to
Switzerland to tell them the concerns of Chinese consumers, but Nestlé does
not seem to care." Zhu said after the meeting.

            The meeting was conducted after Zhu gave a press conference in
Lausanne. She demanded that Nestlé adopt the same policy in China as in
European countries and eliminate GE ingredients from its products. She is
also calling on the company to respect consumers' rights to an informed
choice by properly labelling its GE products during the process of phasing
out GMOs. Nestlé rejected both demands during her meeting.

            "My demands were met with outright rejection. Nestlé is
unconvinced that Chinese consumers are as concerned as European consumers on
food safety and consumer rights. I will continue my fight and I will also
ask more Chinese consumers to support me. Only a concerted voice from
Chinese consumers will make their voices heard by Nestlé," said Zhu.

            Zhu's battle against Nestlé has been receiving blanket coverage
in all of China's main media markets and was also well covered in
Switzerland. Many Chinese consumers are very well aware of Zhu's fight
against Nestlé with many of them venting their anger on China's leading
internet sites. This is clearly a story that Nestlé wish would go away but
interest in the case continued at a press conference held in Shanghai today
with over 30 media in attendance, including Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

            Eileen Zhu Yanling is a very impressive character and we are
sure that she will eventually get a satisfactory response from Nestlé. She
does not see herself as a 'consumer champion', "As a member of society I
have a duty to promote individual rights within China's business
environment. The rules for business practice must be fair to everybody".

            Since March last year, Zhu has consciously avoided buying Nestlé
products, whenever there is a choice so if Nestlé want to maintain a stake
in the huge Chinese market we strongly advise them to listen to Zhu and the
many Chinese consumers rallying behind her.

            Zhu´s case, the first of its kind in China, exemplifies the
growing concern about food safety and consumer rights among urban Chinese
consumers. On 6th December 2002, Greenpeace released news about Nestlé
selling unlabelled GE products in China. Within two days, more than 5000
people cast their vote on www.sina.com.cn, one of China's most popular
websites, to denounce Nestlé's double standards. Many angry Chinese
consumers followed up their virtual action with real action - newspapers
reported that products were being returned to Nestlé's offices.

            On the apparent double standards that Nestlé seems to be
applying to its operations in different parts of the world, and their claim
that loopholes in labelling regulations in the 'developing' world are not
their fault, Zhu has this to say; "Nestle and other large companies should
help develop rules, not exploit them [if they want consumers to continue
buying their products]".

            Eileen Zhu Yanling is ready to regain her trust in Nestlé if her
demands are met with action and thinks that they could be a model company in
China if they respect consumer rights. She is willing, along with other
consumers, to work closely with companies to try and affect change and to
realise their corporate responsibility.

            "I am making these demands because there are millions of mothers
in the world who trust Nestlé to provide their kids with nutritious food.
Please do not abuse the trust of these mothers and their children!"

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