Pinduoduo is facing a growing public backlash and an official investigation into its working practices after the death of an employee in her 20s.
The employee, born in 1998, collapsed on her way home from work on at 1.30am on December 29 and sadly died hours later.
While a cause of death has not been confirmed, it has reignited criticism of Pinduoduo and other Chinese tech giant’s brutal work culture often referred to as “996”, referring to the 9am to 9pm days they are expected to work six days a week.
A hashtag about the employee’s death on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, has now been viewed more than 260 million times with many calling for a boycott.
The backlash was exacerbated when one of Pinduoduo’s social media accounts responded to the backlash stating: “Look at the people at the bottom — who is not trading life for money . . . this is an era where we fight with our lives.”
Pinduoduo quickly deleted and distanced itself from the post, blaming it on an external vendor employee, surnamed Li, logged into Pinduoduo’s Zhihu account on Dec. 31 as part of his work related to Pinduoduo’s New Year gala event.
The retailer told Charged: “Pinduoduo will like to clarify that Li is neither a Pinduoduo employee nor received authorization to post his personal views using Pinduoduo’s official account. Following the incident, Pinduoduo has suspended its working relationship with the vendor, recovered the account, and will take further action against related personnel.
“Pinduoduo strongly opposes the views espoused by Li. We sincerely apologize for the negative impact that the post has caused and will immediately investigate and revamp the handling of our official accounts.”
Following the growing public outrage, which has threatened to revive the “anti-996” movements that gained prominence in 2019, district officials at the Shanghai Municipal Human Resources and Social Security Bureau announced that they would commence an investigation.
Pinduoduo commented: “We are heartbroken by Fei’s death and feel deeply for her family. She was popular among her peers and valued by her colleagues.
“Our team has been accompanying the family all this time and providing every assistance that her family needs. At
the request of her parents, we did not make any public announcement these past few days. We hope that people
will respect the family’s expressed desire for privacy during this difficult time.”
‘996’ culture is still a commonplace and widely encouraged among China’s fiercely competitive tech companies like Alibaba and JD.com, with the founders of both companies endorsing the practice.