Meituan driver stabbing revives working conditions debate

2 min read
meituan dianping delivery eleme stabbing service Miniso
A Meituan food delivery driver picks up an order on Oct. 19, 2019 in Beijing. (Image credit: TechNode/Coco Gao)

A deliveryman for food delivery platform Meituan stabbed a Miniso store employee to death on Sunday following an argument about an order, the police for the central Chinese city of Wuhan said, highlighting issues around increasingly popular lifestyle delivery services in the country.

Why it matters: The incident has sparked heated discussion on Chinese social media over the working conditions for the millions of food delivery drivers powering the rise of major internet lifestyle platforms.

Food delivery: Drivers take the risks. Platforms reap the rewards.

Details: Local police received an alert around 2 a.m. on Dec. 22 when witnesses reported that 32-year-old deliveryman, surnamed Chen, was attacking a store employee in a shopping mall in the Hongshan District of Wuhan, according to a post from its official account on microblogging platform Weibo.

  • Chen had a dispute with the employee, surnamed Zhou, when picking up orders from the chain store where he worked, although additional details were unclear.
  • Following the incident, the deliveryman was put into criminal detention after struggling to escape (in Chinese).
  • Miniso, a Chinese low-cost chain retailer, confirmed that the victim was one of its employees at its Wuhan outlet.
  • Local media reports speculated that Chen was angry after Zhou wrote him a bad review on the Meituan platform. A Meituan announcement refuted the rumor, saying that Chen did not get a bad review for the order and the platform did not receive a complaint call about him.
  • Meituan added that they have set up an investigation group for the case and pledged to improve their services.
  • Comments on Weibo, or China’s version of Twitter, were mixed. Some sympathized with Chen, whom they speculated was working under intense pressure.
  • “It’s easy for people to go extremes when fined after days of hard work for only one bad review,” (our translation) a Weibo user going by the handle “Zhaoxiaopi Mulinsen” said, referring to delivery platform policy to dock pay for poor user feedback.
  • Others argued that no excuse should justify murder. “I only see a murder in this case,” another Weibo user nicknamed “Heibaihui Guduhuanzhe” commented.

Context: Delivery drivers are frequently migrant workers from remote areas who send money home to support family, and lack protections that come with an employee contract such as social and health insurance.

  • China’s food delivery market is now dominated by two top players—Meituan Dianping and Alibaba’s Ele.me—which employ a total of 6 million registered couriers.
  • Such market domination can translate into to low wages, leading to labor strikes.
  • Transaction volume for China’s online food delivery market in 2019 is set to expand at its lowest rate in four years, according a report from mobile intelligence platform Trustdata.
  • In addition to couriers, small restaurant owners that initially benefited from online platforms when they began to catch hold now face pressured margins by cooperating with food delivery platforms.
  • The news dealt a blow to the Chinese food delivery giant after it recorded a second quarter of profit in the third quarter.