China’s retail sales grew by 9.3 percent in the first half of the year to stand at 16.1 trillion yuan, according to figures released by the Ministry of Commerce on 17 July.
However, these healthy-looking statistics disguise intense competition and overly-aggressive expansion in the retail sector which, combined with huge pressure from e-commerce, has led to many traditional retailers closing down. Business failures have left many employees out of a job, with no compensation and owed months of wages in arrears. In some cases, national retail chains went bankrupt leaving hundreds of workers in several different cities across China out in the cold.
As Walmart workers demonstrated in 2016, when the American retail giant tried to impose a flexible working hours system on its more than 100,000 employees, China’s shop workers cannot just be pushed around.
The number of worker protests in the retail sector recorded on China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map in July more than doubled compared with the previous month. Strikes and collective protests occurred in a wide range of retail outlets including supermarkets, cosmetics companies, automotive sales and real estate agents, and accounted for about eight percent of all the incidents recorded in July.