What happened?
Legal proceedings
Subsequent developments
Advice for employers


One of the most high-profile anti-sexual harassment events in China was brought to light by Ms Zhou, a female employee of the Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba. Zhou's post, in which she detailed her experiences during and after a work trip in late July 2021, was rapidly shared across the web. Shortly after, "#Alibaba" became the top-trending hashtag on social site Weibo, a website similar to Twitter. This article outlines the event and subsequent developments.

What happened?

In the evening of 7 August 2021, a female employee of Alibaba, later identified by police as having the family name Zhou, wrote an essay on the company's internal staff platform in which she recounted her experience of being raped by her supervisor and sexually assaulted by a business partner of the company during a work trip in Ji'nan, Shandong province, on 27 July 2021.

According to Zhou's own recollection of the events that took place that night, she had been persuaded to drink for the sake of her job, which "made it impossible to refuse". At the table, Mr Zhang from Jinan Hualian had kissed and groped Zhou, while her supervisor, Mr Wang, had done nothing to stop Zhang. After Zhou had gone back to hotel room, Wang had entered her room several times throughout the night, while Zhou claimed to be unconscious.

At 12:34pm the next day, Zhou called the police. After that, she tried to report the incident and file complaints against Wang through the company's channel. However, her request was ignored and rejected by the company's human resources (HR) director and Hyperlocal Retail Business Group's president. Zhou wrote her post as a last resort to fight back.

About 36 hours after Zhou's post set China's internet aflame, Alibaba published the results of its investigation. Soon after that, in the early morning of 9 August 2021, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Alibaba Group and chairman of the board of directors, Daniel Zhang, announced that the Hyperlocal Retail Business Group's president and HR director had both admitted they had made mistakes in dealing with this case and had resigned. He added that the male employee at the heart of the accusations (ie, Wang) had been permanently dismissed with no possibility of being rehired.

Legal proceedings

Criminal charges against harasser
On 14 August 2021, Ji'nan police issued an update on its progress in the investigation, saying that it had detained Wang on the charge of forcible molestation but that there was no evidence of rape. According to Ji'nan police, Wang had obtained a key card to Zhou's room at the front desk and had entered her room four times throughout the night, the longest time for over 20 minutes. The second time Wang had entered Zhou's room, he had "forcibly molested" her. On 6 September 2021, Ji'nan police announced that Wang had committed "forcible indecency". Wang was subjected to 15 days' detention, but prosecutors did not approve an arrest on formal charges, saying that Wang's actions did not constitute a crime.

Labour dispute raised by Zhou
On 25 November 2021, according to media reports, Alibaba terminated its employment contract with Zhou, claiming that Zhou had seriously violated the company's policies by screaming and loudly accusing her bosses and HR colleagues of ignoring her complaints in public, which had had an extremely adverse impact on the company. Zhou then submitted a case for labour arbitration on the grounds that her employer had illegally terminated her employment contract, arguing that she had not violated any company policies. The result of the arbitration remains to be seen.

Subsequent developments

The event kicked off a national discussion over workplace sexual harassment and has highlighted the struggle and backlash that victims face when coming forward with allegations. On 20 December 2021, a draft amendment for the Women's Protection Law was submitted to China's top legislature for first review. After two rounds of revisions, the newly revised Women's Protection Law was passed on 31 October 2022 and will come into effect on 1 January 2023. It contains numerous new provisions to safeguard women's rights and interests against sexual harassment.

The new law calls for a more comprehensive system to protect women from sexual harassment, further clarifying the obligations of schools and companies to guarantee their safety. It also makes a checklist to facilitate the development of a feasible reporting and prevention mechanism, including putting in place effective anti-sexual harassment policies at workplaces and adding sex education to the school curriculum. Moreover, the new law provides specific penalties for employers that fail to comply with the aforementioned duties.

In Alibaba's case, employees are entitled to contact the CEO directly through DingTalk according to the company's bylaws. However, Zhou's post suggests that, rather than reaching out to Daniel Zhang first, she went no higher than the president of the Hyperlocal Retail Business Group. In this incident, the channels of communication between different levels of the company hierarchy – from "business units" to "business groups", from business groups to HR, and from HR to the CEO – had broken down. Therefore, a more efficient and effective measure should be put in place, according to the new law.

Advice for employers

To demonstrate this, employers should implement and widely disseminate a policy prohibiting harassment and providing an adequate procedure for reporting it. For example, if a supervisor is the harasser at issue, the policy must provide an alternative to reporting to a supervisor. Therefore, employers should take the following practical steps to minimise their risk of workplace sexual harassment claims:

  • Employers should implement an effective anti-harassment policy and ensure it includes:
    • instructions for reporting harassment;
    • a statement that the employer will take any necessary corrective action to end harassment; and
    • a signed acknowledgement of receipt and understanding by employees.
  • Employers should:
    • train all employees in how to implement the anti-harassment policy and procedure;
    • regularly ensure that new employees receive the training;
    • keep the employer's intolerance and reporting procedure fresh in employees' minds (eg, once a year); and
    • document receipt of sexual harassment training by employees by sign-in sheets or other written acknowledgment.
  • Employers should respond to harassment claims promptly by:
    • investigating claims quickly;
    • gathering and reviewing all relevant evidence;
    • documenting all information received and sent; and
    • making findings on whether and to what extent harassment occurred, even with help of local police investigations.
  • Employers should take prompt corrective action intended to end harassment, including:
    • considering various actions for ending harassment;
    • determining which course of action will be effective to ending harassment;
    • implementing corrective action;
    • informing the complainant that corrective action has been taken; and
    • requesting that the complainant immediately inform the employer if any harassment resumes.


A concrete and solid anti-sexual harassment policy not only effectively protects potential victims at a workplace, but also reduces employers' costs in dealing with allegations and complaints over several perpetrators and maintaining a good social reputation. The implementation of the newly revised Women's Protection Law will be closely followed.

For further information on this topic please contact Weizhen Wang or Meng Li at JunHe by email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The JunHe website can be accessed at