American executive Charles “Chip” Starnes, the co-founder of Coral Springs, Florida-headquartered Speciality Medical Devices, has been held hostage by Chinese workers at a Beijing factory since last Friday over worker demands for severance packages.
We spoke with his younger brother John Starnes over the phone earlier today.
“It’s been tough. It’s kind of like a movie. I get word Friday that my brother is being held hostage in a facility in China,” he said, adding, “It’s been surreal, to say the least. It’s been very scary.”
John has maintained contact with his brother via the telephone and email, but that the internet has been cut off since Friday.
He described his brother Chip’s conditions up until the story broke in the news media as bad. At one point Chip went 24 hours without food, water and was deprived of sleep. Chip also has a severe infection in his eyes, which started while he was in China.
However, the media attention has already helped improve things a bit.
“Once the news story broke, the conditions have gotten much better. My understanding is they finally got him some medical help regarding his eyes…They’ve given him a cot in the last day or two — He’s not sleeping on the floor,” he said, adding that his brother now gets three meals a day.
When the lock-in began, John said that the factory employees were standing in Chip’s office watching him sleep. Once Chip managed to get them out, the employees started banging on the windows making it difficult for him to sleep, John explained.
Things have eased up in the last 24 to 36 hours. He said his brother now has some mobility around the factory and isn’t just confined to his office.
So far, it’s been impossible for him to leave, though.
Chip sent his brother some video footage from his cell phone demonstrating this. The video, which is posted below, shows him trying to leave the facility and being blocked from the exit by a bunch of factory workers.
John told us that it’s his understanding that all of the entrances to the facility are blocked. He said that it’s also his understanding that the Chinese authorities are outside of the facility maintaining order and the workers are inside the facility blockading him.
What’s more is the factory workers are sleeping in shifts to make sure Chip doesn’t leave, John explained. Chip also sent a photo showing this (See above).
The Specialty Medical Devices facility in China has been up and running for a decade. John estimated that his brother Chip has been visiting the facility once a quarter during the last 10 years.
He doesn’t have any family in China. None of his relatives were travelling with him at the time.
Chip’s wife and three children are back in Florida. John said that it has been a very challenging time for the family.
“The stress level is high. The concerns are high. The emotions are high. We are very concerned for his safety and for his well being.”
The family has been in touch with officials in the U.S. to help Chip.
When John first got word of the situation he reached out to Tony Baltimore, who does constituent outreach relations for Congressman Mike Rogers.
“They’ve been a tremendous help.”
Here’s the mobile phone video:
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