Flipkart records 15 sexual harassment complaints in FY19

If 2018 became memorable for the #metoo movement that swept across the world, then 2019 might as well go down as the year of #noprogress on #metoo, if we consider some of the reports in recent months. Cases have dragged on for months with barely any movement, while some of the victims have looked on, horrified as celebs like Anu Malik who were outed, have been quietly rehabilitated again.

While the #metoo movement did encourage both women and some men to come forward and share their travails, claiming a few token heads along the way, large scale change remains absent. One of the few positive outcomes has been the pressure and requirement to document cases that come up now, once a complaint is made formally, which brings us to the firm – Flipkart – in the spotlight today.

According to their latest financial filing, the Walmart-owned entities Flipkart Internet and Flipkart India altogether received 15 sexual harassment complaints during the last fiscal year. Even assuming that these complaints were due to increased reporting of such cases due to heightened awareness, it’s a worrying statistic for a firm like Flipkart.

Flipkart Internet, which operates the online marketplace received 12 sexual harassment complaints during FY19 out of which four cases remained pending for over three months, and three were unresolved at the end of the year. The company’s internal committee disposed of nine cases through action ranging from termination to closure on account of withdrawal of the complaint, while others were ruled out due to absence of written complaints.

On the other hand, the company’s wholesale arm ‘Flipkart India Pvt Ltd’ received three complaints of sexual harassment, and only one such case was resolved after obtaining an undertaking and apology from the respondent. While this sexual harasser was let off after what you can call a slap on the wrist, the remaining two complaints dragged on for three months and remained unresolved at the end of the FY19.

Flipkart refused to share details of the cases or their current status citing confidentiality.

“The cases reported last year saw appropriate action and closure based on the recommendations of the committee,” said Flipkart in response to Entrackr’s detailed questionnaire, adding that it has a policy of zero tolerance to such practices. 

The rise in such cases indicates that the growing menace of sexual harassment and toxic work culture across startups is nowhere close to being addressed. Flipkart, of course, is not the only company to face cases involving alleged sexual assaults involving key personnel. 

The list of celebrity ‘bosses’ who found themselves at the wrong end of accusations makes for an ‘impressive’ list. Former minister of state of external affairs MJ Akbar, Vinod Dua and Gaurav Sawant (journalists), Utsav Chakraborty, Gursimran Khamba (AIB employee and co-founder), Chetan Bhagat (novelist)  Arunabh Kumar (TVF co-founder & CEO), Suparn Pandey (ScoopWhoop’s co-founder) and many others face alleged sexual misconduct and harassment cases.

While Flipkart claims to have run four awareness programs including rolling out Prevention Of Sexual Harassment (POSH) e-learning modules to curb gruesome incidents of sexual harassment, these initiatives seem to have been largely ineffective in curbing sexual harassments instances.

It’s worth noting that Flipkart Group’s CEO Binny Bansal had quit in November last year following an independent probe on behalf of Flipkart and Walmart into alleged serious personal misconduct.

The investigation revealed lapses in judgement, particularly a lack of transparency, related to how Binny responded to the situation. Though, it did not find evidence to corroborate the complainant’s assertions against Flipkart co-founder.

We believe that the overwhelming majority of cases in the Indian startup ecosystem involved abuse of power, where founder/boss tried to take advantage over a subordinate with his ability to influence career growth, opportunities et al. This flies in the face of the standard excuse that a young workforce causes such deviations. 

What is truly critical is for the community to open up to the more public declaration of policies for workplace standards, be it pledges, a zero-tolerance policy that covers every single individual, and perhaps, openness to third-party employee audits that cover workplace standards and conditions more effectively. 

We continue to be stunned at the number of young employees we meet who are not even aware of any sexual harassment committee in their firms. If even a storied firm like Flipkart continues to struggle with the issue, then it is clearly a case for the leadership to take a public posture on it and keep iterating it regularly. 

Corrigendum: The headline and post has been updated.

Flipkart records 15 sexual harassment complaints in FY19

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