American Factory Boss Held by Workers in Beijing

American executive Chip Starnes has been held hostage in a Beijing factory since Friday by workers demanding severance packages, reports Laurie Burkitt at The Wall Street Journal:

“What they don’t understand is that they aren’t losing their jobs,” he said. He said his workers have misunderstood his intentions to move part of his manufacturing operations to India and instead believed he was closing up the entire shop.

Speaking on Monday from behind the bars of a window of the 10-year-old factory that makes alcohol pads and diabetes equipment, Mr. Starnes apologized for his fatigue. He said during the first few nights of his entrapment that employees treated him like a prisoner of war, depriving him of sleep by making jarring noises and shining bright lights in his eyes. There are no guns, however, and Mr. Starnes said that he hasn’t been physically harmed in any way.

[…] He added that he was hoping to find someone who can get him a ladder and open the window so that he can jump out. [Source]

According to an earlier report by The Associated Press’ Louise Watt, 30 employees were laid off, leaving 100 others fearful that they would be next. Watt also described the incident’s context, and conveyed some limited reassurance to other foreign bosses in China:

The labor action reflects growing uneasiness among workers about their jobs amid China’s slowing economic growth and the sense that growing labor costs make the country less attractive for some foreign-owned factories. The account about local officials coercing Starnes to meet workers’ demands — if true — reflects how officials typically consider stifling unrest to be a priority.

[…] Christian Murck, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said he wasn’t familiar with Starnes’ case, but that such hostage-taking was “not a major problem” for the foreign business community.

“It happened more often say 15 years ago than today, but it still happens from time to time,” he said. “It rarely leads to personal harm to the managers involved, but there are cases when it has in years past.” [Source]