Employees at the Swedish branch of Chinese electronics giant Huawei have been subjected to threats, harassment and public punishment from senior staff, according to a report from Sveriges Radio (SR).
Huawei is one of the largest telecom companies in the world. It established its Sweden branch a few years ago and today employs 500 staff in Sweden.
It is often described as the largest competitor to Sweden’s telecommunications behemoth Ericsson.
But according to 20 anonymous current and former employees who spoke with SR, it is very much a Chinese company in Sweden.
Workers who met Chinese board’s disproval could be transferred without warning to a different department or a different country in what one interviewee viewed as a ploy to “get rid” of workers that didn’t meet expectations.
“Two sales people were told off in front of the entire staff for leaving early one day to pick up the kids from day care. The manager told them that they should prepare a Power Point presentation for the next day to show why they should get to keep their jobs,” another said to SR.
But the Managing Director of Huawei Nordic Office, James Chen, does not agree that there is a problem at the company, and told SR that out of the 500, only 15 have left the company in the last two and a half years.
This indicates employees are happy with their workplace, according to Chen, defending the transfers as a way to give workers “a new chance”.
But Swedish trade union Unionen confirms the image presented by the employees at Huawei.
The union has been trying to get the company to sign a collective agreement for some time and has been asked by the Huawei employees for help.
“There is a pecking order. The board of directors is completely Chinese, the middle management is mainly Swedish and the workers mainly Chinese,” said Kari Anderson at Unionen to The Local.
According to Andersson, the punishments vary from harassment to threats.
“if you are seen as ‘uncomfortable’ you get transferred. One Chinese girl told us that when she had come with a suggestion she had been told that if she isn’t a blonde they didn’t care about what she thought” Andersson said.
Andersson thinks that the problems originate in a culture clash between the Chinese way of managing a company to the Swedish way.
“Chinese leadership looks entirely different to the Swedish model. Here we value dialogue and mutual respect between managers and more junior employees,” she said.
The question, according to Andersson, is whether it is acceptable that a foreign company that establishes itself in Sweden and is in competition with Swedish companies, doesn’t follow Swedish work ethics.
“Perhaps we need to put our foot down and show that this is not the way we want companies to act here,” she said to The Local.
The union will continue to support its members and work for a collective agreement between the members and the company.
But according to James Chen there are no threats or harassment at Huawei Sweden.
“That simply doesn’t happen. The staff is the most important asset of the company. Why should I threaten them?” Chen asked SR.