A former Alibaba driver set fire to himself amid growing concerns about Chinese labour laws

Wang HE/Getty ImagesAlibaba founder Jack Ma in January 2018.
  • A delivery driver set himself on fire following a pay dispute with a partner of Alibaba subsidiary Ele.me, The Financial Times reported Tuesday.
  • “I want my blood and sweat money back,” driver Liu Jin said in videos of the incident.
  • He now has medical bills of more than 1 million yuan ($US150,000).
  • In December, a 22-year-old Chinese tech worker died. Her death was widely attributed to the “996” work culture that dominates the industry.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A former Alibaba driver set himself alight after getting into a pay dispute with a company owned by the Chinese retail and tech giant, The Financial Times reported Tuesday.

China’s labour laws are increasingly being scrutinised. Delivery workers in the country are exposed to poor working conditions, according to the workers’ rights group the China Labour Bulletin, including informal employment, no job security or social insurance, and “abusive management practices.” And the payment delivery drivers received per order has fallen, the group said.

In videos shared on social media, delivery driver Liu Jin set fire to himself in Taizhou, eastern China.

This followed a pay dispute with a local driver partner of Alibaba’s food delivery platform Ele.me, sources familiar with the situation told The Financial Times, after he resigned from his job to join rival food-delivery service Meituan.

“I want my blood and sweat money back,” Liu said in the videos, per the publication.


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After the fire left him with third-degree burns covering 80% of his body, Liu now has medical bills of more than 1 million yuan ($US150,000), the publication reported, citing a crowdfunding page for the man.

“We are saddened by the tragic event,” Ele.me told The Financial Times. “The situation is currently under investigation and we are unable to comment at this stage.”

Liu’s situation is similar to the experiences of many other delivery drivers in China.

A Yunda Express driver in Beijing told Chinese publication Ran Caijing that the number of orders he has to deliver every day has doubled since early 2019, peaking at more than 400 during the Singles Day period. If he doesn’t hit his targets, his pay will be docked, he said.

In November, an 18-year-old worker in Hunan died by suicide after working 10-hour shifts for STO Express each night for three months straight, according to a post on Chinese social-media platform Weibo by his cousin. After the company turned down numerous requests to switch to the day shift, as well as a request to have a day off, he drank a bottle of pesticide at work and died the next day per the post, which was cited by the Chinese Labour Bulletin.

It isn’t just poorly-paid delivery drivers who are feeling the consequences of China’s rapid economic growth. A 22-year-old employee of e-commerce platform Pinduoduo died in December, which was widely attributed to the “996” work culture that dominates China’s tech industry. Championed by the likes of Alibaba founder Jack Ma and JD.com CEO Richard Liu Qiangdong, the culture means many staffers work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

China has also come under fire for allowing companies to use Uighur minorities as forced labour. Top US companies including Nike, Coca-Cola, and HSBC are reportedly among those using factories that rely on this practice. Apple has repeatedly been accused of benefiting from forced labour in China, and a recent report found Lens Technology, a longtime supplier of glass for iPhones, uses Uighur forced labour in its factories.

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