TikTok boss who ‘didn’t believe’ firms should offer maternity leave steps down

A top executive at social media giant TikTok has stepped down after telling shocked UK staff that as a ‘capitalist’ he ‘didn’t believe’ firms should offer maternity leave. 

Joshua Ma, who led the app’s European ecommerce team, has will ‘step back’ from his role after making the controversial comments at a dinner this year, the company has said.

The tech boss, who is a senior executive at ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the video app, had been on a trip to the UK from China to check on the launch of TikTok Shop, which it hopes will act like a shopping channel on the app.

However, he has now found himself replaced by the firm after a damning investigation by the Financial Times found a work culture in the London office marred by extremely long hours and almost weekly staff resignations.

It reported that more than 20 staff have left the firm’s ecommerce team in London since it launched TikTok Shop in October, with anonymous current and former members hitting out at ‘toxic’ working practices in the office. 

A boss at social media app TikTok has stepped down after he told shocked UK staff he ‘didn’t believe’ that firms should offer maternity leave 

What is TikTok Shop? 

Social media app TikTok has grown enormously since it was launched in 2017. 

The app allows people to post videos between 15 seconds and 10 minutes long, and has become extremely popular, claiming to have more than one billion monthly active users worldwide.

TikTok Shop is an attempt by the app to monetise some of its content. 

It hosts livestreams on which it displays adverts for shopping items – much like QVC on broadcast TV.

TikTok approaches companies to host their brands and items on the livestreams, with viewers able to buy these by clicking an orange basket on the stream. 

These goods are often sourced from cheap manufacturers and with some being low-cost compared to established brands. 

However, the likes of L’Oreal and Charlotte Tilbury, have sold items through the shop. 

The firm takes five per cent of the sale price as commission, although it is reported that TikTok sometimes waives this to attract brands to take part.

This has proven very successful in China, with the firm rolling it out to the UK in October last year.

Among these are expectations that staff work longer than 12 hours a day, people being demoted or removed from accounts for taking leave and ‘unrealistic targets’ for the number of sales. 

In an email to staff seen by the Financial Times, TikTok said it was investigating the claims. 

In the email, which was titled ‘Maintaining a positive working culture’, the firm responded to ‘some disheartening allegations’ about the ecommerce team in the UK. 

‘Hopefully, this painful experience will make us a stronger, closer and better team over the long term,’ it said. 

It added that ‘the wellbeing of our team is our top priority’ and said staff could contact an anonymous hotline to report breaches of the company’s code of conduct.

Patrick Nommensen, who has worked for ByteDance since the app was launched and led the launch of the ecommerce team in the UK, was named in the email as succeeding Ma, who has ‘stepped back’ from his role while the investigation takes place.

A spokesperson for TikTok declined to comment on Joshua Ma specifically, but said it is ‘investigating alleged statements and actions to determine whether there has been a breach of company policies’. 

It added that it had a clear maternity leave policy, with 30 weeks paid leave.

One of the key reasons given for these issues is an apparent culture clash between working practices in the UK and what the Chinese company expects from its staff. 

Whistleblowers told of punishingly long days where they were expected to be in early so they could talk to Chinese colleagues while also sticking around into the evenings as this is when livestreams work best.

They also said the company praised their commitment if staff worked into the early hours of the morning, while someone saying they would work while on holiday was given as an example of something all employees should aspire towards. 

A spokesperson for TikTok said: ‘As with many service businesses, employees in some functions may at times need to work hours that match customer use patterns. 

‘We aim to make this the exception rather than the norm, and support our team with flexible working hours, regular no-meeting times, and robust health and wellbeing offerings.’ 

It also responded to claims from former employees claiming that when they didn’t hit ‘unrealistic’ targets for sales on livestreams or didn’t answer emails out of hours they would be castigated by bosses.

TikTok is one of the world's most popular social media apps, with the firm claiming to have more than a billion active monthly users

TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media apps, with the firm claiming to have more than a billion active monthly users 

It said: ‘TikTok Shop has only been operating in the UK for a few months, and we’re investing rapidly in expanding the resources, structures and process to support a positive employee experience. 

‘Examples include a holistic onboarding programme for new joiners; regular employee surveys to solicit and action direct feedback; and dedicated training, mentorship and recognition programmes to support and celebrate professional development and achievements.’

The app, which claims to have more than one billion active monthly users worldwide, has proved controversial in the past. 

Despite it’s popularity, particularly among younger people, governments in the West have raised concerns about how the data of users is used. 

In 2019 the US Army announced it was investigating the app’s links to the Chinese Government, particularly in regard to its policy with data sharing.

It came after national security experts raised concerns about Tiktok’s collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information.