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US cosmetic groups acts over Falungong claims Tuesday

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WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (AFP) - A high-powered US congressional trio is warning Texas-based cosmetics giant Mary Kay Inc. to stand up to China's demands that sales associates swear not to join the banned Falungong spiritual group.

Representatives Tom Lantos, Chris Smith and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all well known human rights advocates, wrote to Mary Kay CEO Richard Rogers to demand action.

Lantos said he had established that Chinese authorities had ordered the Mary Kay sales force to sign a "behavioral standards" statement in August or face being fired.
But a company spokesman told AFP that the statement was already being changed, and that the firm had been a pathbreaker for women's rights in China.

"It is unconscionable that Mary Kay Inc. would make an affirmative decision to play a front-line role in enforcing the Chinese Government's brutal campaign against a particular spiritual movement in China," the letter said.
"We are shocked that an American company, particularly one which purports to put 'God first,' would be willing to enlist in the Chinese government's brutal campaign to identify and persecute members of a particular spiritual movement."

Mary Kay Inc. spokesman Randall Oxford told AFP that the firm was already in the process of changing the statement put to employees before receiving the Lantos letter.
"Our intent in developing the pledge was simply to communicate to our beauty consultants that they must operate in China as we do in every other country by obeying local laws," said Oxford.

"When we learned how the pledge was being interpreted, we knew we had to change it and we are in the process of doing that now."

He said no-one had been fired through refusing to sign the statement, but that one person saw their employment in China, where Mary Kay has a 120,000 strong sales force, terminated through "multiple illegal activities."
"In a nation where there are extremely limited opportunities for women, we have created a business opportunity in which women are able to generate significant personal and financial success for themselves and their family," said Oxford.

Falungong is outlawed in China by the government, which has branded it an "evil sect."

The group claims more than 1,600 members have been tortured or beaten to death in China since a crackdown was ordered four years ago.

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