Friday, 24 May 2024

TikTok accused of mishandling sex harassment allegations against boss

TikTok is accused of mishandling sexual harassment allegations against senior London boss who ‘tried to touch and kiss young female staff and influencers and asked one for oral sex’

A former TikTok executive allegedly asked a female colleague to perform a sex act on him in his London office and said he wanted to ‘rip her clothes off’ but the social platform mishandled complaints, it was claimed today.

Steve Ware, head of TikTok’s UK ecommerce studio operations until last year, is accused of making inappropriate advances to young female staff and even influencers behind key content for the video app.

Ware had resigned from TikTok in September 2022 before a probe into his alleged behaviour was over. He has told the Financial Times, who has seen messages they claim corroborate some of the claims, that all allegations against him are ‘false’. MailOnline has asked TikTok for comment. 

One worker, called Sarah, claims she was denied ‘justice’ by TikTok after allegedly being repeatedly propositioned by Ware. She said he twice inappropriately touched her, once tried to kiss her and also threatened to ‘slap her a**e’.

Ware is said to have asked a woman for oral sex in an office and also told her he wanted to ‘rip her clothes off’, it is alleged, with the FT speaking to four women who worked with him at TikTok.

Two colleagues claimed Ware discussed the sexual act of ‘teabagging’ with young women at work – and had also allegedly asked them personal questions about their sex lives.

TikTok’s office in Farringdon, London, where Steve Ware, head of TikTok’s UK ecommerce studio operations worked until last year

Sarah said that her case was not properly investigated and she claims she lost her job as a result.

TikTok told the FT that their investigation found Ware had made inappropriate comments and that messages he sent had fallen short of its code of conduct on harassment. 

But they claimed that Sarah and Ware were in a ‘consensual romantic relationship’, which Sarah denies. 

A TikTok spokesman told the FT: ‘As soon as this complaint was made, we launched a thorough investigation, including interviewing 10 different witnesses to determine facts. We are confident we took appropriate steps in response’.

Sarah says that after the investigation was over, her fixed-term employment contract was terminated with a month’s notice. 

She told the FT: ‘They realised he had left, and it did not reflect badly on TikTok anymore. I was left waiting for six months without any outcome. I did not get any justice.

‘I was scared of losing my job if I said something and [that is what happened] in the end’.

Mr Ware has deleted his LinkedIn account, but said in a post as he left TikTok: ‘I stepped down from my role as Head of UK studio operations at TikTok after an extremely crazy year! Working to develop TikTok shop UK has been a huge privilege and learning curve within an industry that will continue to grow expediently.

‘I am immensely proud of the team and I know they shall continue to be a pioneering department within TikTok shop for the months / years to come’.

Last year it emerged that TikTok’s London staff were quitting or being sacked because of a culture clash with its Chinese owners who were accused of forcing them to work through the night and during holidays – or demoting them if they refused, whistleblowers claimed.

In June 2022 it was claimed that more than 20 staff have left the firm’s e-commerce team since it launched TikTok Shop eight months ago, with anonymous current and former workers slamming ‘toxic’ and stressful working practices in the UK HQ. 

Last year a row broke out over how TikTok runs its UK online shop and the treatment of staff

The raft of resignations and sackings have been linked to October’s UK launch of the company’s online retail business, branded an anglo-Chinese QVC selling luxury brands on social media. 

Two people were reportedly paid off after complaints over working conditions amid allegations those who failed to hit ‘unrealistic’ sales targets were singled out and reprimanded on internal message boards. TikTok said it was investigating.

One former team leader told the Financial Times: ‘The culture really is toxic. Relationships there are built on fear. They don’t care about burnout because it is such a big company they can just replace you. They coast on the TikTok brand’. 

Joshua Ma, who led the app’s European ecommerce team, stepped back last year after telling shocked UK TikTok staff that as a ‘capitalist’ he ‘didn’t believe’ firms should offer maternity leave as more claims about the company’s alleged ‘toxic’ culture emerged

Another said: ‘People are leaving every week. It is like a game: every Monday we ask who has been fired, and who has quit’. 

The row came as a senior executive at the tech giant is to ‘take some time off’ after he said he ‘didn’t believe’ in maternity leave because it conflicts with ‘capitalism’.

Joshua Ma, a manager with TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance, stepped back from his role leading the app’s UK online shopping operation after the comments emerged as part of an investigation into its aggressive work culture.

Staff at TikTok’s London offices were left outraged after Mr Ma said at an employee dinner that, as a ‘capitalist’, he ‘didn’t believe’ companies should offer maternity leave.

In an email to staff, TikTok said it was investigating the allegations, which it branded ‘disheartening’.

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

Ma’s comments, reported by The FT, came amid a culture clash within TikTok’s London ecommerce team, which reportedly suffered an exodus of staff amid complaints of a toxic company culture that set unrealistic targets and ran counter to standard UK working practices.

Staff said they were frequently expected to work over 12 hours per day, while some team members found themselves removed from client accounts after taking annual leave.

Working into the early hours of the morning or while taking holiday was also celebrated by the company as an example of good practice.

Two employees were also thought to have been paid compensation in relation to working conditions at the firm.

The raft of resignations was linked to the UK launch of TikTok Shop, the company’s online retail business, in October last year.

Products sold through the app include those from brands such as L’Oreal and Lookfantastic, with TikTok often encouraging sellers to offer heavy discounts and ‘flash sales’ which are often subsidised by the company itself.

Employees complained that TikTok set ‘unrealistic’ sales targets for the division following the launch in a bid to drum up business.

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. 

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