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Marriott Fires Employee for Tibet Tweet: Beijing Makes Western Companies Toe the Line on Political Commentary
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By Marianne Jennings

4/13/2018

 

 

Randy Jones worked for Marriott International managing the company's social media accounts.  As part of that job, Mr. Jones monitors what is being said about Marriott online. Marriott had emailed a survey to rewards members asking them their native countries.  The options includedTibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. A Canadian vendor had prepared the survey for Marriott. On January 9, 2018, the Internet began popping with outrage over Marriott's country listings.  China considers Tibet part of China and not a separate country..  However, a Tibet separatist group tweeted praise for Marriott for listing Tibet as a separate country.  Mr. Jones clicked on"like" for that Tweet.  By January 11, 2018, the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration questioned Marriott about the "like" Tweet as well as the country listings.  The officials asked Marriott for a public apology and demanded that it "deal seriously with the people responsible."  HR interviewed Mr. Jones, and by January 14, 2018, he had been fired.  

 

 

The incident shows that although China censors Internet content within its own country, it also monitors the international Internet and reprimands Western companies when they appear in Internet content that criticizes China. During the past year, Delta Airlines, Zara Clothing, and Mercedes Benz have also been taken to task by Beijing for ads, posts, and statements. Mr. Jones's termination rather than a reprimand or suspension indicates the extent to which Western companies bend in order to be able to do business in China is great characterized by deference. China prohibits Internet postings that harm "the dignity of the state. Wayne Ma, "Marriott Firing Tied To Tweet Over Tibet,"  Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2018, p. B1. Mercedes was chastised by China when one of its ads featured a quote from the Dalai Lama, who is know to support Tibet separatists. 

 

Mr. Jones was an hourly, at-will employee and was terminated for a violation of "company policy." However, Mr. Jones says that he was not aware of the significance of his actions, explaining that he had never been trained in Chinese social graces. An at-will employee, depending upon the particular state, cane be fired for good cause or no cause.  However, most companies follow a progressive process with preliminary steps of warnings, performance improvement plans, and ongoing reviews before taking the ultimate step of termination. 

 

DISCUSSION STARTERS

 

Explain the Chinese policies.

 

Discuss why Marrioot had to act so quickly.  Does that change teh gradual discipline process requirements>