It’s not only in the US that big tech companies are firing workers for pursing a just workplace. In January, Wang Taixu, a programmer at Pinduoduo was fired for anonymously sharing a video of a coworker getting hospitalized, most likely from overwork. Pinduoduo is China’s second largest e-commerce platform, and Alibaba’s biggest competitor in the sector. The next afternoon, management at Pinduoduo identified that Wang had posted the anonymous video and fired him.
According to Wang, Pinduoduo employees endure horrible working conditions; employees work 300-380 hours each month (roughly 70-87 hours per week), national holidays are illegally shortened, there is a shortage of bathroom stalls, and the food provided for employees is often found to be spoiled.
Wang’s firing comes after two recent Pinduoduo employee deaths. Earlier in the month, a Pinduoduo programmer committed suicide after returning to his hometown. Separately, another employee, working in Xinjiang, died after collapsing from her 1:30am commute home. These deaths—said to be related to the harsh working conditions at the company—reignited public concern over the long working hours at tech companies. Some have even called to boycott the company. Nearly two years ago, Chinese tech workers led a viral campaign to protest 996—working 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week.
Pinduoduo’s founder and largest stakeholder, Colin Huang, is China’s second richest man, worth $64 billion as of the date of writing. Chinese behemoth Tencent is Pinduoduo’s second biggest shareholder with 16.5% stake. US-based venture capital firm Sequoia is the fourth biggest investor with a 7% stake.
After being fired, Wang Taixu, also a recent college graduate, posted a 15 minute video on the video streaming platform Bilibili, explaining his experience of being fired. The video was viewed nearly half-a-million times on Chinese social media. In his video, he exposes the inhumane working conditions of Pinduoduo employees and his experience of being threatened and intimidated by the company’s HR and management. He concludes his video by inviting online supporters to follow him on social media to discuss the labor law together.
The following is a translated portion from Wang’s video:
Shanghai headquartered employees are forced to work 300 hours each month. Employees responsible for selling agricultural products are forced to work 380 hours.1 If an employee wants to apply for a vacation, they must work overtime for the hours lost during vacation. If these hours aren’t met, employees will be faced with bad performance reviews, and asked if their workload is too little.
Pinduoduo headquarters have very few bathroom stalls, to the point of employees having to go to another building, or even a nearby mall, to use the bathroom. The company admin’s solution is to put up a sign in each bathroom stall saying “hope everyone can hurry up.”
During official holidays that last for more than 3 days, employees are expected to return to work early, or request a leave of absence. For example, the Chinese national day holiday is normally 8 days long, but Pinduoduo employees are expected to return after 5 days.
Company rules are frequently changed, salaries constantly fluctuate, annual bonuses are—without explanation—delayed by a month.
Office conditions are horrid. Employees were forced to move into newly renovated floors that still have a chemical odor. The free meals that were promised are often times old or rancid. During Singles Day 2, the sales department forced its employees to stay at work until 1am. Even supper, which was provided that evening, was rotten.
I think we can use one sentence to describe Pinduoduo: It lacks what all “internet factories” should have—care for its employees.