Caixin
Dec 03, 2019 08:53 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Huawei Takes Flak Over Wrongful Detention of Ex-Employee

A Huawei office in North China's Tianjin on Nov. 26. Photo: VCG
A Huawei office in North China's Tianjin on Nov. 26. Photo: VCG

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is facing criticism once again — this time not by a Western government worried about national security, but by a domestic audience unhappy with its role in the wrongful detention of one of its long-time employees.

The telecom giant accused the employee, Li Hongyuan, of attempting to extort money from the company in 2018. Li says that his powerful former employer unfairly stiffed him on 200,000 yuan ($28,425) of annual bonuses. He was detained by Shenzhen police in late 2018, before being released 251 days later without charge due to a lack of evidence, and subsequently being offered more than 100,000 yuan in compensation.

Huawei is one of China’s biggest tech companies and the world’s second-largest smartphone-maker. In the first three quarters of this year, its revenue rose by a quarter to hit 610.8 billion yuan.

Li, 42, spent 12 years working at a Huawei sales department until he was dismissed in early 2018. He then began a dispute with the controversial company over his severance package. Huawei told him his poor performance meant he wasn’t eligible for the annual bonuses, Li told the media. This eventually led to Li suing the company on Nov. 7, 2018.

Some 40 days later he was arrested by Shenzhen police, after Huawei alleged he had threatened to expose illegal behavior at the company.

He was released in August when the local procuratorate decided to drop the charges because of “unclear criminal facts and insufficient evidence,” according to a document it sent to Li, which he shared online. Li demanded the procuratorate compensate him for the lengthy detention, and on Nov. 25 he received another document from the authorities stating they would pay him 107,500 yuan.

The procuratorate documents went viral on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform earlier this month, with the relevant hashtag being viewed 230 million times as of publishing.

One Weibo user commented that the fact Huawei hasn’t apologized to Li shows that “capital can wipe out humanity.” Another said she wouldn’t buy Huawei products in future, and that it was shame to see Huawei squander the goodwill it garnered since its Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada.

Huawei made its first public comment on the case on Monday, in which it said that “Huawei is entitled, as well as obligated to report suspicious illegal behavior to judicial authorities.” The statement said that “If Li Hongyuan thinks his rights were harmed, we welcome him to defend his own rights by the use of legal weapons, including suing Huawei, which reflects the spirit of the rule of law that everyone is equal before the law.”

Caixin managed to get in touch with Li Hongyuan before Huawei’s statement, who said he has felt enormous pressure due to the public attention on this case. Li said he needs some time to cool down before he addresses the dispute again.

When contacted on Tuesday evening, Li declined to make further comment, besides confirming that Huawei has not contacted him since the online furor began.

The progress of Li’s original case against Huawei is unclear.

Huawei is not the only tech giant to be criticized over the way it treats its employees. Last month, New York-listed internet company NetEase Inc. apologized after a public outcry over its firing of a sick employee.

Contact reporter Isabelle Li (liyi@caixin.com)

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