Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba has fired a female employee who accused her superior of sexual assault during a business trip, in the latest setback for the country’s #MeToo movement.
The company was founded by billionaire Jack Ma accused the employee of “spreading misinformation” and “generating a negative impact”, according to a copy of the dismissal letter seen by the Financial Times.
The letter blamed the employee for bringing “banners and microphones” to the company cafeteria and post a long account of the attack on Alibaba’s internal chat board to draw attention to the incident.
Her account of sexual abuse by her boss and a customer at a business dinner that included several drinks went viral in August and became a public relations disaster for Alibaba. .
The woman, who only asked to be identified by the surname Zhou, told the FT that she released her internal account “after repeatedly reporting the incident to company leadership with no response”.
“I just want the company leadership to see what happened and help solve it,” she said. “I never thought that the company would eventually fire me, a victim. It’s very unfair,” she said.
The incident sparked a debate about Alibaba’s alleged sexist corporate culture and forced a broader reckoning on Compulsory drinking at work, was condemned by the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog.
Initially, Alibaba chief executive Daniel Zhang called the alleged attack “an insult to all Aliren” or “Ali people” and pledged to lead to change at the company. Zhou’s superior who is accused of assault is Fired and two other executives were asked to resign for ignoring her reports.
But then Alibaba also lay off 10 employees who disclosed Zhou’s account to the public. Activists say the move against Chu points to challenges facing China’s #MeToo movement.
Her dismissal also comes after Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared from public view and was censored online after allegation of sexual assault against a former senior official of the Chinese Communist Party.
“Sometimes there’s a step forward and then a step back [for gender equality],” said Feng Yuan, director of Beijing-based women’s rights advocacy group Weiping.
Alibaba “did an ineffective job in responding to the original complaint and [now] ultimately lay off employees,” she added.
Alibaba’s dismissal letter said the incident had caused “incalculable harm” to both Zhou and the company, and accused her of unfaithful communication.
“I really don’t get it, before the company’s leadership issued a press release stressing that they would handle this properly, I don’t think the outcome would be to fire me,” Zhou said.
Alibaba did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In September, the Chinese government additional fee reduction against the alleged former manager and imposed a penalty of 15 days in detention as punishment for “forced rudeness”.
Zhou’s dismissal once again put Alibaba in the spotlight, with the topic trending over the weekend on popular social media app Weibo.
Chinese officials have stepped up a campaign this year to rein in the private sector, with information from the party’s annual economic planning meeting calling capital regulation a focus for next year.
The party must “support and guide the healthy development of capital” and prevent “the barbaric expansion of capital”, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
In a separate effort to appease Chinese authorities, Alibaba on Monday turned its e-commerce website black and white in memory of the Nanjing Massacre, a brutal episode in the invasion. China in 1937-45 by Japan, which remains a source of friction among Asia’s leading powers.
Maiqi Ding contributed reporting from Beijing
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