Alibaba’s #MeToo scandal warns Chinese tech

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The Alibaba Group logo is seen on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York, the United States, August 3, 2021.

HONG KONG, Aug. 9 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Alibaba’s #MeToo moment (9988.HK) is sounding the alarm bells for China’s struggling tech sector at a bad time.

The $ 534 billion e-commerce company was already on watch for antitrust and other issues. Over the weekend, an employee shared an 11-page document detailing a recent business trip where she was allegedly forced to drink and then sexually assaulted by her boss. The individual says he informed human resources and several managers, and organized a protest at Alibaba’s canteen, but was muzzled. General manager Daniel Zhang said on Sunday that the allegations had left him “shocked, angry and ashamed.”

The public outrage was intense. The People’s Republic’s long-standing drinking culture has largely bypassed internet companies, which are seen as more progressive. The #MeToo movement first drew Beijing’s anger for its militant tendencies. Now it may be starting to take hold. Alibaba trended high on Twitter-like Weibo over the weekend, and state media, including the Global Times, were quick to criticize what has been described as a slow and weak response. It’s barely a week after a furore online and in the media after Chinese-Canadian actor and pop star Kris Wu was arrested on suspicion of rape. He had previously denied the allegations.

The Alibaba scandal took many, including its own employees, by surprise. The company boasts of pioneering a comprehensive and efficient HR system that sends out so-called “generalists” to oversee various business operations, ensuring that staff identify with the values ​​and morals. from Alibaba.

In addition, about a third of Alibaba executives are women, including CFO Maggie Wu and HR Director Judy Tong. It’s a welcome contrast to the all-male leadership teams of other internet giants Tencent (0700.HK), Pinduoduo (PDD.O), Meituan (3690.HK), and Kuaishou Technology (1024.HK). Founder Jack Ma once called it Alibaba’s “secret sauce”.

Zhang said in a strong letter on Monday that the incident pointed to a “systemic” problem in his culture. The company has now fired the man accused of the attack, two others have resigned and Tong has been incapacitated.

Alibaba employees, however, are demanding more changes. Other women in comparable companies could also be inspired to come forward. Meanwhile, regulators are increasingly scrutinizing the social impact of internet companies. The toxic culture of the industry is long overdue.

To pursue @ ywchen1 and @mak_robyn on Twitter

NEWS CONTEXT

– Late on August 7, an Alibaba employee’s account of an incident she said occurred during a business trip on July 27 went viral on Chinese social media. Responses to his account were among the hottest articles on Weibo, similar to Twitter in China, the next morning, Reuters reported on August 8.

– Jinan City police said on August 8 that they were investigating the incident.

– Alibaba said on August 8 that it suspended several employees following allegations by an employee on the company’s intranet that she was sexually assaulted by her boss and a customer.

– CEO Daniel Zhang, who succeeded Alibaba founder Jack Ma as the company’s chairman in 2019, responded on the morning of August 8 with a statement posted on the company’s intranet, accusing human resources and company directors for mismanaging the case, the Wall Street Journal reported. Zhang, who called the woman by a nickname, said he was “shocked, furious and ashamed” when he discovered the alleged incident the night before.

Editing by Antony Currie and Katrina Hamlin

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