Schröder's deputy urges boycott of unpatriotic German firms

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The Independent Online

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's ruling Social Democrats were embroiled in a row with German big business after senior members of his party called on consumers to boycott companies that sacked their employees en masse.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's ruling Social Democrats were embroiled in a row with German big business after senior members of his party called on consumers to boycott companies that sacked their employees en masse.

The suggestion was made by Ute Vogt, the deputy leader of the Social Democrats, who joined Mr Schröder and the German industry minister in launching unprecedented attacks on the business sector.

Recent jobless figures showed unemployment at about five million, the highest level since the 1930s.

Mrs Vogt said that German firms that destroyed jobs should be penalised: "The consumers have the wherewithal to avoid goods produced by companies that chuck out people en masse," she told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper. "However, if companies become socially engaged and take trouble to save jobs, this could be a reason for buying their products." Her remarks were preceded by similar comments by Franz Muentefering, the Social Democrat Party leader, who criticised companies that enforced mass redundancies to stay competitive, or moved factories abroad to cut costs.

He was backed by Wolfgang Clement, the industry minister: "There have been wrong developments and the party leader should be allowed to point them out," he said. "Companies should exhibit modern patriotism and think again about whether they want to shift production abroad."

Business leaders attacked their remarks. Dieter Hundt, the head of the German employer's association said that calls for a boycott of companies was irresponsible. "If a company has to shed jobs because of economic difficulties, a boycott of its products could literally finish it off," he said.

The German Chamber of Commerce dismissed the attacks on industry as a "waste of time" and suggested that it was a belated attempt by the Social Democrats to win support ahead of a key election in the state of North Rhine Westfalia next month. Opinion polls show the Social Democrats are lagging a total of 10 points behind the opposition conservatives in the state.

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