Morocco's Centrale Danone workers protest job losses due to boycott

Slideshow ( 5 images )

RABAT (Reuters) - Workers at Morocco's Centrale Danone, a subsidiary of French group Danone DANO.PA, staged a sit-in in Rabat late on Tuesday over losing their jobs as a consumer boycott now in its second month pressures the company.

“We came here to make our voice heard and tell our Moroccan brothers and sisters to stop the boycott because thousands of jobs at Centrale Danone are at risk,” said El Mehdi Hbich, one of the protesters.

About 2,000 people held banners urging an end to the boycott and blaming the government for what they described as a degradation of the purchasing power of Moroccans. Centrale Danone has about 6,000 people on its payroll.

The boycott, launched on Facebook in April, has slashed the company’s sales and on Monday it said it expects a loss of 150 million dirhams in the six months ending June 30, down from a profit of 56 million dirhams in the same period a year ago.

Last week, Centrale Danone said it would cut by 30 percent the amount of milk it collects from 120,000 farmers and lay off workers on short-term contracts, estimated by a government minister at 1,000 people. Other companies targeted by the boycott have declined to comment.

The protest against prices set by large groups linked to a business and political elite, or foreign brands was directed at Centrale Danone, Afriquia fuel stations, owned by the Akwa group of billionaire agriculture minister Aziz Akhanouch, and the Sidi Ali water brand.

“Centrale Danone’s factories are now running at half their production capacity because of the boycott,” said Hassan Rouicheq of the CDT labor Union. “This augurs ill for the company, the workers and the farmers who supply.”

The government has called for the boycott to end, voicing concern that it may discourage foreign investors and undermine the domestic dairy sector.

Protests over poverty and corruption this year and in 2017 in impoverished regions of Morocco have been described as the most intense since the 2011 unrest that prompted King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers to an elected parliament.

Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Toni Reinhold