JD CEO Richard Liu during better times
It’s been a difficult year for JD.com, China’s second-largest e-commerce firm. Richard Liu (刘强东 Liú Qiángdōng), CEO of the giant, is embroiled in an ongoing scandal where he was accused of raping a Chinese student in the U.S. Despite his denials, the Associated Press recently published a story that adds explicit details regarding the incident, including how the alleged victim said no to Liu’s advances and tried to fight him off in the bedroom.
Now, following a remarkable drop in its stock value, rumors are that JD is planning a significant round of layoffs. According to the finance blogger 金科见闻安 (Jīnkējiànwénān), who first disclosed this information on his blog (in Chinese), JD Mall (JD’s e-commerce platform and its core business) is planning to slash its staff by more than 10 percent. Meanwhile, JD’s financial services arm, which is reportedly looking to realize its IPO plan by 2020, is poised to downsize its staff by more than 20 percent. What’s more, employees at the company are openly speculating that it’s single women with no kids who will be the first to be laid off.
In response, JD released a statement (in Chinese) on Tuesday to debunk the rumors, saying that the planned cuts are nothing but “normal staff turnover” and “elimination of incapable employees,” with an aim to optimize the enterprise. JD also reported the rumors about its “massive layoffs” to police, claiming they have significantly damaged its reputation.
The blogger 金科见闻安 included a screenshot of an internal conversation between JD’s employees. One person said that in his department, “women will be the first to be laid off,” especially those who are “unmarried and don’t have kids.” Another employee said that he was told by the head of his team in a private chat that the layoff is for the purpose of “optimization,” and that his team was asked to meet the goal of cutting about 20 percent of all positions.
According to accounts from some employees on Maimai 脉脉, China’s biggest professional networking website, the workplace has morphed into something of a dystopian world depicted in George Orwell’s 1984, where an attendance tracking system keeps close tabs on who leaves the workplace sooner than others, and a software installed on company computers takes regular screengrabs to monitor employee behavior.
JD’s apparent hostility toward the word “layoff” (裁员 cáiyuán) is understandable, given that cutting thousands of jobs is never a good look for any companies. The rumors, however, echo Liu’s words from back in May. In a retailer conference in Madrid, the JD CEO announced that there would be multiple waves of layoffs in his company in the next 10 years — up to 80,000 job losses, about half of its current staff. The restructure plan also aims to give human positions to AI-powered robots.