Alibaba has been accused of firing an employee who filed rape allegations against her boss at the organization. The Chinese e-commerce group delivered a dismissal letter to a female who was only identified as Zhou. This attracted a lot of attention on the internet, with female activist groups triggering an outcry.
Zhou previously laid sexual assault allegations against her superior after a business trip. The issue was thrown under wraps by Alibaba officials. According to Zhou, she was sexually abused by her boss and a client at a drinks-fuelled business dinner. When the incident was posted on the internet, it was public relations nightmare for Alibaba as several people were condemning this heinous act [Source].
She was interviewed by Financial Times and said that “she published her account internally ‘after repeatedly reporting the incident to company leaders without a response” [Source]. She explained that “I just wanted the company leaders to see what happened and help resolve it. I never thought the company would end up firing me, the victim. It’s very unfair.”
Jack Ma’s company accused the employee of “spreading false information” and “creating a negative impact,” and these allegations were written down in a dismissal letter given to Zhou. According to the letter, she was also blamed for holding a one-person demo at the company’s cafeteria with a “banner and microphone.” Alibaba officials noted her misconduct of seeking attention by posting a rather lengthy account of the incident to Alibaba’s internal chat board. She was despised for exaggerating the details of the assault.
Further condemnation for Zhou in the dismissal letter said this case had caused “incalculable harm” to Zhou and Alibaba, and Zhou failed to communicate in good faith. The Chinese authorities extended Zhou’s punishment by handing him a 15-day sentence for “force indecency” and additional charges.
The case prompted questions regarding Alibaba’s allegedly sexist corporate culture, which was despised since it mistreated women. The Chinese Communist party’s anti-corruption watchdog criticized the company’s culture of allowing people on business functions to drink. An intoxicated person is known to exhibit unruly behavior, leading to an assault of all forms.
After news broke out about the sexual assault, Alibaba’s chief executive Daniel Zhang was very sympathetic to the public eye and called the incident a “humiliation for all Alibaba people.” He also pledged to make necessary reforms that would change such behavior at the company. As a follow-up to this issue, Zhou’s superior accused of abusing her was fired. Two other executives were asked to hand in their resignation because they ignored her reports. Additionally, 10 employees were fired for leaking Zhou’s account on public forums.
This move angered activists since innocent employees lost their jobs for exposing the ugly truth about the abuser. Zhou’s ill-treatment by Alibaba was a challenge to China’s #MeToo movement. Zhou’s incident happened soon after tennis star Peng Shuai’s public disappearance as she had made sexual allegations against a former senior Chinese Communist party official. Peng Shuai was also censored online.
Feng Yaun, director of Beijing-based women’s rights group Weiping, said, “Sometimes there will be one step ahead and then one step back [for gender equality].” She added that Alibaba “did a really poor job in responding to the initial complaint and [now] finally firing the employee.”
Other people online were displeased by Alibaba’s move and said, “As an internet giant, what Alibaba did was inconsiderate. Firing the woman caused a new problem. Why didn’t Alibaba reflect on its own management flaws?” [Source].
In response to her dismissal, Zhou said, “I really don’t understand it, before the company leaders were putting out press releases emphasizing that they would properly handle this, I didn’t think the result would be dismissing me.”
For now, Alibaba is feeling the heat of infringing women’s rights.