By: Steve Toloken
June 25, 2013
American medical device executive Chip Starnes is being held captive at his Beijing plastics factory by workers, as a result of a dispute about company plans to move some production to India.
Starnes, a founder of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Specialty Medical Supplies, has for several days been blocked from leaving the factory by at least 80 workers, who Starnes said wrongly believe that he intends to close the facility completely.
Several media accounts based on interviews of Starnes conducted through his office window quoted him as saying that SMS is only moving some of its plastics production to Mumbai, India, and will be paying severance to about 30 affected employees.
He said the company will still need about 100 workers at the Beijing factory.
One worker who answered a telephone line at the SMS plant told Plastics News that the employees want to be properly compensated and are suspicious that the company plans to close the factory entirely.
The worker declined to give her name and said there was no worker acting as a spokesperson for the employees.
It is not clear if the dispute is moving closer to resolution.
A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Beijing said June 25 that the two sides "might be" on the verge of an agreement, after embassy staff visited Starnes June 24 to make sure he was safe.
However, company officials at SMS headquarters in Florida did not return phone calls, Starnes could not be reached directly and the unidentified factory worker said it was not clear to her how the dispute would be resolved, and she was unaware of talks aimed at settling it.
An Associated Press story said that Starnes felt he was "coerced" by local officials into signing some documents on June 22 to address workers' demands.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse said Starnes will have access to his attorneys.
Press reports said police were at the factory to maintain order, and a spokesman for the local Public Security Bureau in Beijing's Hauirou district told the Associated Press that discussions are underway.
"As far as I know, there was a labor dispute between the workers and the company management and the dispute is being solved," said spokesman Zhao Lu. "I am not sure about the details of the solution, but I can guarantee the personal safety of the manager."
According to the SMS website, the Beijing factory has injection molding capability and manufactures blood glucose monitoring systems, plastic lancets for drawing blood, insulin syringes and alcohol pads, among others.
The company said it plans to keep the alcohol pad manufacturing in China but move the plastics division to India.
SMS was founded in 1999 and manufactures all of its products in China, the company said on its website.