China Frees Labor Activist as Nike Contractor Strike in 10th Day

China released the manager of a labor support group detained after advising striking workers at a shoe factory for brands including Nike Inc. and Adidas AG.

Zhang Zhiru, manager of the Shenzhen Chunfeng Labor Dispute Service Center, said by phone today he was released last night after being taken away April 22 from the factory by Chinese public security officials. He said he doesn’t know the whereabouts of colleague Lin Dong, who had also been questioned by officials.

The strike at Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Ltd.’s factory in Dongguan, China, extended to a 10th day today, George Liu, a spokesman for the Hong Kong-listed company, said by phone. Employees at the complex, where more than 40,000 people work, have been striking since April 14 in a dispute over pay and benefits.

“More and more workers have been coming back to work,” Liu said in an interview. He declined to comment on how the strike was affecting production.

Zhang and Lin met factory workers on Monday to help them pick a group of representatives of employees in Yue Yuen’s eight factories in the city.

“Up to then, the strike demands from workers had not been very uniform,” said Shenzhen, China-based Zhang, whose agency offers legal assistance to factory workers and holds training courses on collective bargaining with companies.

Zhang said he was detained after being asked to meet with Dongguan city security officials, who then asked him and Lin to sign a declaration that they wouldn’t get involved in the strike at the Yue Yuen factory. Both refused, Zhang said.

Whisked Away

Public security officials then took away the two activists’ mobile phones and brought Zhang to a villa in the Guangzhou area of southern China, he said. They took Lin separately, Zhang said.

“I asked them when I could return home, and they said once the workers at the shoe factory return to work, I could,” said Zhang, who said he had previously helped striking International Business Machines Corp. workers. “The public security officials said they would bring me to have some fun and asked me to call my wife and say that I was on a holiday with friends,” he said. Zhang said he wasn’t mistreated.

The strike, which has disrupted output for almost two weeks, has led Adidas to move some production away from Yue Yuen’s shoe factory in Dongguan.

Greg Rossiter, a spokesman for Nike, said yesterday the Beaverton, Oregon-based sporting goods company has “closely followed the events” in Dongguan and has the “flexibility to manage volatility.”

Yue Yuen, which had 423,000 employees as of 2012, also makes shoes for brands including Puma SE, Asics Corp., New Balance, Timberland Co. and Reebok.

— With assistance by Liza Lin, and Dexter Roberts

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