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Alibaba fires manager accused of sexual assault; media lambastes handling

Chinese e-commerce leader Alibaba Group Holding Ltd on Monday said it has fired a manager accused of sexual assault and promised policies to prevent sexual harassment – action blasted by state media as coming only after the accuser went public.

On Saturday, a female employee posted an 11-page account on Alibaba’s intranet saying her manager and a client sexually assaulted her, and that superiors and human resources had not taken the matter seriously in the five days since she reported it.

The manager, at grocery delivery unit Neighbourhood Retail, said he was involved in “intimate acts” when the employee was inebriated and “has been fired and will never be rehired,” Chief Executive Daniel Zhang said in an intranet memo seen by Reuters and later made public. The police are investigating the matter, he said.

Reuters was unable to reach the individual for comment.

State media and online commentators were overwhelmingly critical of Alibaba’s perceived delay in handling the incident.

“Alibaba could not offer an answer that satisfies public opinion for this ham-handed inaction,” said an editorial in the Global Times tabloid published by the state-run People’s Daily.

Internally, on a group chat dedicated to the issue, staff have demanded justice and measures to prevent sexual harassment. A notice, on Alibaba’s workplace messaging app DingTalk, showed the group had more than 6,000 members as of Sunday.

The incident has also sparked internal discussion over the company’s culture, said an Alibaba employee, who was not authorised to speak with media and so declined to be identified.

The employee said Alibaba is facing heavy pressure in terms of public opinion and there is a need for it to “scrape poison off the bone” – a Chinese expression meaning to remove a harmful portion to save the whole.

Alibaba has faced the ire of both the public and authorities in the past year and a half. In April 2020, users of the eponymous microblog of Alibaba-backed Weibo Corp complained that critical reports on the platform about an affair involving a top Alibaba executive disappeared.

And as recently as March, Alibaba was fined a record $2.75 billion for anti-competitive behaviour.

In his memo, Zhang announced company-wide training for the prevention of sexual harassment. He also said Alibaba is staunchly opposed to “the ugly culture of forced drinking”, referring to the female employee’s account of the incident in which she said her manager ordered her to drink.

“This incident is a humiliation for all Alibaba employees. We must rebuild, and we must change,” he said in the memo.

Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Additional reporting by Engen Tham in Shanghai, Cheng Leng and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Christopher Cushing.

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