Friday, January 8, 2021

If TutorABC isn't a Chinese company, they should stop acting like it


Translation of the relevant part: a teacher was fired by TutorABC for saying "I'm Taiwanese"

There's been discussion for quite some time that TutorABC, originally a Taiwanese online teaching company, has been bought out by a Chinese firm and has since turned into an organization that espouses anti-Taiwan, pro-unification values. 

DPP Legislator Lin Chun-hsien 林俊憲 brought up the issue again recently, saying that after being acquired by a Chinese investor, TutorABC was one front in Chinese efforts to gain influence through Taiwanese educational channels. According to Taiwan News and Focus Taiwan, Taiwanese educational companies cannot allow Chinese investment, but TutorABC is technically registered as an "IT company", which presents a very juicy -- and possibly wholly intentional -- loophole. 

TutorABC responded that while Ping An Group -- the Chinese investor in question -- did have a controlling stake in iTutor, that iTutor and TutorABC were already "separate companies" when that happened in 2019, so the move did not affect TutorABC. 

This is almost certainly false.

Notably, the company itself does not clearly differentiate between iTutor and TutorABC (it seems as though the 'group' is named iTutor, and TutorABC is a part of that) online. Recruitment ads on third-party platforms put both names in the heading and state that they are essentially the same thing, or that TutorABC is one platform of iTutor. The "recruitment" page for TutorABC further conflates the names. In fact, here is a small parade of evidence showing that the company itself does not actually consider the two to be separate:

An article in China Daily states that "iTutor Group" (which the piece is about) "built" the TutorABC brand:

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If you go to the recruitment page for TutorABC, you are directed to a recruitment page with the iTutorGroup logo but a TutorABC web address:

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On one job recruitment website, they are treated as the same company: 

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On iTutor's own FAQ (through the recruitment portal for TutorABC) they list TutorABC as a subsidiary focused on Taiwan: 

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On PR Newswire, part of a marketing company called Cision, they state that iTutor "operates multiple brands" including TutorABC, which implies that one controls the other, not that they are separate: 

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TutorABC's own LinkedIn profile has a blurb in the About section which makes it clear that they are, in fact, iTutor:

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They portray themselves as being the same company in their search result title:

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And finally, on Glassdoor, a well-respected job review site, they state clearly that TutorABC is "now known as" iTutor:

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After that tour of TutorABC/iTutor's online presence, do you believe they are "separate" companies and that TutorABC is not a subsidiary of iTutor?

I wrote about this in early November 2019, the person whose experience I focused on was in the midst of signing up with "TutorABC". I noted then that if you take a job at "TutorABC", you're actually signing up to work at "iTutor". She has just re-affirmed to me that she was directly told this, and the screenshots in that post confirm that she was communicating with "iTutor" despite applying to work at "TutorABC". 

At that point, it didn't matter whether the person who responded to her resignation by stating "we are a Chinese company" meant TutorABC or iTutor: they were essentially one and the same as she was working for one by applying through the other.

Here's that e-mail again. Note that they put both TutorABC and iTutorGroup in the email heading -- pretty odd for two "separate" companies:


Later in November 2019, Taiwan News reported the story of another foreign teacher quitting because she was told not to ask students where they were from, and not to discuss "Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and China in the same context". Notably, the emails between her and her employer state the employer as "iTutor", but she stated clearly that she "chose TutorABC" as an employer.

This is especially interesting in light of their statement yesterday, which insisted that their company was focused on "education", not "politics" for "all walks of life" and didn't want education to be a "political issue". If they don't want education to be a political issue, why are they telling teachers which topics are deemed unacceptable to discuss, including the simple question "where are you from?" That policy choice is an inherently political one.

Even if iTutor and TutorABC are "separate entities" -- which the Internet doesn't seem to believe is true -- TutorABC certainly still seems to be pushing the "one China" line. In addition to the stories above, on a Facebook page dedicated to the Taiwanese language one comment notes that a Taiwanese teacher was fired from TutorABC for saying they were a "Taiwanese teacher". 


Here is the original post it appeared on:


If TutorABC indeed wishes to be considered "separate" from iTutor, with one brand managing the China market and the other focusing on Taiwan, they should actually separate the two businesses. If TutorABC wants to be considered a "Taiwanese company", it must stop including CCP-appeasing policies into its training modules, or at least stop requiring teachers working with students outside China to follow said policies.

They must not fire teachers for stating their identity, or asking where their students are from. They must stop asking "TutorABC" teachers to allow their paperwork to be sent to China -- if TutorABC focuses on Taiwan as they say, that should not be necessary. They should announce to all employees that it is not company policy to state that their company is "Chinese", and they must have two clear, separate recruitment and learning channels. 

Currently, TutorABC does not appear to be doing any of this. They will send your employment paperwork to China, tell you not to discuss topics the CCP doesn't want discussed, will apparently fire you for identifying as Taiwanese, and require that you not ask Taiwanese students where they are from. Their employees may tell you they are a "Chinese company" and "Taiwan is a part of China". 

Therefore, it is fair to consider TutorABC a Chinese company, regardless of where they were founded. 

If they want people to regard them differently, there are concrete actions they can take to make that happen. In the meantime, perhaps we should believe what they say on their own website. 

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