Going to the toilet can be very difficult for employees in China’s big tech firms, claims an article that went viral on Chinese social media yesterday. Big tech offices don’t provide enough toilets for their staff, writes magazine Renwu.

Why it matters: It’s not the first time that big tech firms in China have been under fire for workplace practices, but it is the first time that toilets have been the issue.

  • China takes toilets very seriously. In 2015, the Chinese government launched a “Toilet Revolution,” to build public toilets across the country, pursuant of higher sanitary goals.

In the eyes of managers, toilets are the enemy of efficiency. The toilet is the last part of the management system of a large factory. What this system has to do is to occupy the body of the employee as long as possible, so that the employee can create more productivity per unit of time.

Chinese magazine Renwu

Details: The viral article is based on reports from employees in China’s big tech firms who report long toilet queues due to insufficient facilities. It alleges that some companies limit toilet facilities in a deliberate attempt to control employees’ bodies.

  • The problem is worst at Pinduoduo and Kuaishou, the article said:
  • “I try to drink as little water as possible every day. If I urinate, I go to the mall while eating lunch downstairs,” Liu Xiaoran, a Pinduoduo employee, was quoted in the article (our translation). The e-commerce app has increased staff in a Shanghai office sixfold in the last year, but toilets have not been added to match the influx of workers.
  • Similarly, short video app Kuaishou has expanded its staff from 1,000 employees in 2017, to 8,000 in 2018. In 2020, it has opened more than 10,000 new positions, but it has not added enough new toilets to keep up.
  • Kuaishou has reportedly even installed timers on top of the toilets.
  • Alibaba’s Ali Park in Hangzhou is not lacking in sanitary facilities, but employees told Renwu that during China’s biggest shopping festival, so many Alibaba employees work overtime that the toilets fill up.
  • As of writing, the hashtag “big tech’s toilet problem” has reached almost 42 million views on Weibo.

The worst experience is when you wait for a long time to enter, and find that the last colleague who rushed back to work forgot to flush.

Chinese publication Renwu

Context: Big tech firms first faced criticism over working conditions in March 2019 after employees took to Github to protest its “996” working culture; working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.

  • Renwu magazine last blasted tech for working conditions in September, when an article accusing delivery companies of forcing drivers to take risks to meet tight schedules provoked outrage.

Eliza was TechNode's blockchain and fintech reporter until July 2021, when she moved to CoinDesk to cover crypto in Asia. Get in touch with her via email or Twitter.