Criticism the Only Cost for China’s Discriminatory Recruiters

7 min read 

Chinese job seekers can face discrimination when applying for a job. Employers often ask personal questions about gender, place of origin, age and marital status, leading job candidates to be disqualified based on factors other than their actual credentials and abilities.

However, a recent story suggests that those with privileged conditions may also be victims of job market discrimination.

Too Rich to Hire

A native Beijinger was denied a job offer after a Freshhema recruiter told her the company does not hire employees from Beijing. The recruiter went on to complain about Beijing locals, saying they were ‘so rich’ the company cannot afford to retain them.

“We do not hire Beijingers at all,” the recruiter said in a WeChat conversation. When questioned by the job candidate, the recruiter said he is merely an employee following the company’s policy and does not get to make any decisions.

Freshhema Store
Freshhema Store. Image Source: Sohu.

Freshhema is an online grocery business owned by Alibaba. The company is known for free and fast delivery to consumers who make and pay for their orders online.

Freshhema apologized and responded after screenshots of the conversation appeared on Weibo and attracted attention. The company blamed its third-party recruiting agency for the alleged discrimination. Freshhema suspended its contract with the recruiting firm soon after the incident.

The online grocery firm denied having any form of discriminatory policy against Beijingers and said more than 20 percent of its Beijing employees were local talent.

The company’s apology did not impress Beijingers on Weibo, who commented below the apology that they would never buy from Freshhema again.

It is not the first time such discrimination incidents have drawn attention. In 2017, consumer products and service provider Meituan-Dianping and tech firm Xiaomi both encountered discrimination scandals due to their recruiting processes. China’s economy is growing rapidly, but discrimination remains common. In June, one university graduate was denied her teaching certificate for being too short.

Labor Law Allows Discrimination

While job seekers recognize discrimination as a wrongful practice, China has no legislation to protect citizens from discrimination in employment. Even legal regulations on workplace discrimination are limited.

According to the Chinese Incentivizing Employment Law, only ethnicity, race, gender and religious belief are protected grounds. Sections 29 and 31 of the law also prohibit discrimination based on disability and place of origin. However, place of origin is understood to refer to household registration status – rural area hukou holders have the right to be employed free from discrimination.

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Image Source: datamaticsinc.

Other forms of discrimination, such as discrimination against people from specific regions, who have certain height or a certain university major, are not discussed in the law.

Individuals who believe themselves to be victims of discriminatory practices may pursue a legal case under tort law. However, the process is handled on a case-by-case basis and disputes may take years to resolve.

Media have called for the establishment of a new anti-discrimination laws in employment, but there has been no progress on this front during past two National People’s Congress sessions. The National People’s Congress is the legislative body of the People’s Republic of China.

Public anger has gone nowhere. An article from China National Radio said there have been few legal cases related to employment discrimination during the past decade. The report said employers who discriminated against job seekers received little punishment. “The situation usually was solved by public criticism instead of legal measures,” CNR said.

No Public Consensus

The challenging problem is that while no one wants to be a victim of discrimination, not everyone is willing to end their own discrimination.

When browsing through the responses to Freshhema’s apology, it is easy to see Beijinger’s anger was less related to discriminatory hiring standards than due to Beijing locals being the target.

“I am one of the 110104s (first six a Chinese ID card, showing one’s birthplace as Beijing). I am a 100 percent Xuanwu (a Beijing district now merged into Xicheng) resident. I will never spend a dime in your place. I am sick and tired of you,” one comment read.

“Beijing residents were living well before Freshhema. My family and I do not need your services,” another user wrote.

“All I can do is to call on every Beijinger to boycott your business,” another read, “Don’t shop at Freshhema. Delete the application. You don’t bother to care about how little money Beijingers have. Save it for your other employees. I hope your company goes bankrupt soon.”

While Beijingers were not happy with Freshhema, residents from other cities had a different view.

“How she responded the issue is the exact reason why the employer did not hire her,” wrote one commenter.

“Let’s be real. Beijingers don’t usually ask for higher wages, but they are the ones that are most difficult to manage. They don’t want to work overtime. They don’t want to go on business trips,” another commenter wrote.

“Everyone gets it. Beijingers are just terrible employees,” another commenter said.

The discussion quickly lost its focus and turned away from the issue of employer discrimination and into futile debates about regional stereotypes and superiority.

The current Chinese household registration system, hukou, makes the lives of local residents and non-local migrants very different. Individuals who do not have a local hukou may be denied the right to purchase a house or obtain a license plate. Residents without local hukou also face limited access to public education resources, and may have problems enrolling their children in a local school. Local hukou holders have no concerns over these issues.

The vast differences in status make Chinese acutely aware of the differences among regions, especially those working and living in metropolitan areas such as Beijing and Shanghai. Discussions of regional discriminations are common on the Internet.

Most discussions begin as expressions of anger and moral condemnation, but ultimately descend into online brawls between native residents and new migrants.

The actual cause of the discrimination – employers and their recruiting agents – never remain the focus. The most they will offer is an apology, but they rarely face legal action from the victims or government regulatory authorities.

Attention Can’t Save Everyone

It’s hard enough to resolve discrimination issues rooted in regional stereotypes. Other qualities, such as gender, sexuality and family status, are even harder to recognize. The likelihood of people lobbying and pushing for actual change to public policy and legal practice is even more remote.

The Beijing News vowed to solve discriminatory issues using legal tools instead of public opinion. Public opinion may help some individuals to fight for their rights, but many victims of discrimination go unnoticed. Building up an effective and concise legal path for individuals to file cases against employers who engage in discriminatory practices would be a better and more practical solution.

Employers who are in charge of their own recruiting strategies are more likely to implement policies that fit their own interests instead of focusing on ensuring equal rights and opportunities. Public opinion may pressure some companies to adjust their recruiting strategies, but without legal restriction and actual enforcement it is unlikely.

In Ontario, Canada, the Ontario Human Rights Commission lists comprehensive protected grounds for individuals to examine if their cases may constitute any forms of discrimination. Rather than courtrooms and judges, the system employs human rights tribunals, which lower the barrier for individuals to address discriminatory practices.

Lowing the cost for individuals to file cases against their employers may help achieve an economy with equal opportunities for all individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or place of origin. Employers would face more challenges and harsh penalties if involved in discriminatory policies against job candidates.

Employers would be forced to weigh the benefits of discrimination when it costs them real money instead of negative social media press.

Feature Image Source: Internet.

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