Thursday, July 5, 2007

Wahaha Goes on the Offensive

On July 2, 2007, the chief of Wahaha Group, Zong Qinghou, announced in a press conference that Wahaha would sue three foreign members on the Danon-Wahaha joint venture companies' board within 30 days.

In the past few months since May 2007, Wahaha has been busy defending itself against Danon’s assault on several fronts. On May 9, Danon submitted its disputes with Wahaha Group and Zong Qinghou to arbitration in Stockholm; on June 4, Danon sued two companies managed by Zong’s wife and daughter in a California state court. On June 18, Zong feebly pulled a punch by declaring the trademark transfer agreement with Danon invalid, and submitted that to the Hangzhou Arbitration Commission.

Then Wahaha Group hired the biggest law firm in China -- King & Wood to pull off something big. If Wahaha does what it said, it will file a derivative action against 3 foreign board members: Emmanuel Faber, Francois Caquelin, Qing Peng (秦鹏). The thrust of its allegations is that these three Danon-Wahaha joint venture board members violated Company Law of the P. R. China. It will, allegedly, claim that the defendants violated their duty to be loyal to the joint venture companies as board members by serving on competitor companies’ boards. Wahaha reportedly would seek damages in the amount of 1 million yuan.

If this is the only substantive blaming stone that Wahaha and Zong have got to cast at Danon, the legal ramifications of this derivative action for Danon is less than what the Chinese media have done. Given nationalistic sentiments against Danon (the “foreign devil”), many distributors of Danon-Wahaha joint venture companies have ceased to sell and distribute their products. Legal fees and judicial assessment of damages against Danon would do far less damages than consumer sentiments. After all, that is what ultimately makes or breaks a company.

The saga continues; stay tuned.

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