Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has fired a manager accused by an employee of rape after her account of the incident went viral on social media. Two of the company’s directors also resigned after mishandling the allegations. The scandal has prompted widespread criticism over the company’s response to the matter.
The female employee went public on Aug. 7 with an 11-page statement posted on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo. She said she was coerced to go on a business trip on July 27. At night, she was pressured to consume alcohol excessively and molested by the client while her manager turned a blind eye, she said.
Later, her manager came into the inebriated employee’s hotel room and raped her, according to the woman.
The employee, who didn’t disclose her identity in the post, said the company didn’t take the matter seriously when she reported the assault with her husband on Aug. 2. She said that higher-ranked officers informed her on Aug. 6 that they couldn’t fire the manager.
In a memo to employees on Aug. 9, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said the accused perpetrator, who works at the company’s Neighborhood Retail business unit, confessed to “intimate acts” with the female employee while she was intoxicated. Zhang said the manager, who wasn’t identified, was fired because he was in serious violation of company policy. Police were investigating the matter, he said.
“Whether he has committed rape or indecency that violates the law will be determined by law enforcement,” Zhang said.
Two other executives, the president of the Neighborhood Retail business unit and the head of the unit’s human resources department, resigned due to their mishandling of the case.
“When the employee reported a horrendous act such as rape, they did not make timely decisions nor took appropriate action,” Zhang said.
Alibaba’s Chief People Officer Judy Tong was also given a demerit on her record, as the human resources department “did not pay enough attention and care to our people,” according to the memo.
Zhang pledged to expedite the formation of an anti-sexual harassment policy that has “zero tolerance for sexual misconduct” and announced a company-wide training session on the issue.
For some Chinese netizens, Alibaba’s actions were too little, too late.
“The sexual assault was called ‘intimate acts.’ … They are still covering up their faults even though it has come so far. Alibaba, please bravely admit your fault, and show a gesture of good faith,” one netizen said in an online comment.
Many others criticized the company for not acting until the accuser went public.
The former employee’s case drew public outcry after her lengthy post was widely circulated and among the top trending items on Weibo on Aug. 8.
According to female staff for the company, her post to Alibaba’s internal platform was deleted, and she was later removed from a group chat. She gave leaflets in the company’s canteen to expose the scandal, but a dozen security guards came to her and threatened to call the police.
More than 6,000 Alibaba staff have joined a chat group on Alibaba’s workplace messaging app, calling for attention and actions for the female employee. In the group’s open letter, released on Aug. 8, they demand that the company compensate the victim, ban the culture of forcing employees to consume alcohol in client events, and create a hotline for sexual assault cases.
On Aug. 8, state-run media outlet Global Times lashed out at the company, saying, “Alibaba could not offer an answer that satisfies public opinion for this ham-handed inaction.”
Alibaba’s stock price in Hong Kong closed at a drop of 2.48 percent on Aug. 9, at $24.25.
The company has been under scrutiny since the Chinese regime tightened controls on its home-grown tech giants. On May 13, Alibaba reported its first quarterly loss of $1.17 billion since it went public in 2014, after the regime slapped it with a record $2.8 billion antitrust fine on April 10.
Recently, Canadian Chinese pop singer Kris Wu was detained and investigated by Beijing police on suspicion of “tricking young girls into having sex with him.” Chinese state media said that Wu’s Canadian citizenship wouldn’t help him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.