UPDATE: Marriott CEO's Relationship With Beijing Is Extremely Problematic

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

As we covered yesterday, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson has a disturbing pattern of sucking up to the commies running China, including parroting as fact Beijing’s almost certainly false report that they have no new Wuhan coronavirus cases.


That pattern of kissing up to commies included firing a $14/hr customer service representative, who said the job was the best job he’d ever had, because the Chinese government demanded it after the employee inadvertently liked a pro-Tibet tweet from Marriott’s corporate Twitter account.

How did all of that come about?

In January 2018 Marriott “identified Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and Macau as stand-alone countries on an email questionnaire it sent to members of its rewards program.” The Chinese government was not impressed, since they believe those locations are part of China.

(Hong Kong and Macau are generally listed as Special Administrative Regions, or SAR’s. Taiwan is recognized by 14 countries as an independent nation; its capital city, Taipei, is generally referred to as Taipei, Taiwan and not Taipei, China.)

Although the survey was sent by a third-party vendor, Beijing requested Marriott “shut down their six Chinese websites and apps as punishment, and Marriott complied.” Not only that, at Beijing’s demand they terminated their contract with their long-time vendor, issued a public apology to the Chinese government, redesigned their apps to identify those areas as part of China (even Taiwan), and instituted an 8-point “re-certification” (a/k/a re-education) plan for their employees.


The public apology, directly from Sorenson and not credited to the company in general or its board of directors, is sickening. It’s not a boilerplate, three sentence, “We’re sorry for your inconvenience and will make sure it doesn’t happen again” apology. This apology firmly establishes Arne Sorenson and Marriott as Beijing’s bitches.

Sorenson’s apology, dated January 11, 2018, is still on Marriott’s website today. The first paragraph reads (emphasis added):

Marriott International respects and supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. Unfortunately, twice this week, we had incidents that suggested the opposite: First, by incorrectly labelling certain regions within China, including Tibet, as countries in a drop-down menu on a survey we sent out to our loyalty members; and second, in the careless “like” by an associate of a tweet that incorrectly suggested our support of this position. Nothing could be further from the truth: we don’t support anyone who subverts the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and we do not intend in any way to encourage or incite any such people or groups. We recognize the severity of the situation and sincerely apologize.

Excuse me? Marriott doesn’t want to “encourage” people whose basic human rights are violated daily? They don’t want to  “encourage” people whose government encourages them to abort baby girls? As I wrote yesterday, Sorenson’s “principles” aren’t the same as J. Willard Marriott’s and they’re not even in line with the values the company claims to honor on their website.


Sorenson then describes the actions they’re going to take to fix the situation:

We also reviewed the other areas on our websites and apps where this type of functionality might exist to make sure the labeling is correct. In China, at the request of the Government, we have taken down our Chinese websites and apps to conduct a full review and audit. We also quickly un-“liked” the tweet on our official channel and posted a statement of apology on Twitter.

Upon completion of a full investigation into how both incidents happened, we will be taking the necessary disciplinary action with respect to the individuals involved, which could include termination….

The employee terminated “upon completion of a full investigation” was Roy Jones. An article in the Omaha World-Herald (which I tweeted yesterday and a reader informed me is blocked in Europe) tells Jones’ story, starting with the night he inadvertently “liked” the pro-Tibet tweet:

The Marriott customer care manager intended to spend his eight-hour overnight shift doing what he always did: helping hundreds of Marriott customers around the world as they shot complaints, questions and reward-point requests to the hotel chain’s official Twitter accounts.

Roy wasn’t planning to start a geopolitical firestorm, infuriate China and receive dozens of death threats. He didn’t intend to become a cautionary tale of social media’s enormous power or a casualty of an American corporation’s intense fear of the Chinese government. Roy sure didn’t mean to get fired from his $14-an-hour online customer service job, a job the 49-year-old says was his best ever.

“I’m even tired of saying ‘like,’ because that infers it was willful, or on purpose,” Jones told me when we recently met at a northwest Omaha Starbucks. “It didn’t happen that way. Anybody who understands this job … anybody who used the same (Marriott system) that I did … gets how this could happen.”

He…dealt with an NFL promotion that he and his co-workers had been suffering through for months. The promotion seemed straightforward enough: Answer an NFL question on Twitter, and win hotel reward points. The problem: bots. Many scammers had figured out how to game the promotion…

Despite Jones and co-workers repeatedly identifying the bot accounts and warning their bosses about the scam, Marriott management insisted that they continue to treat each Twitter account as a real person, Jones says.

Jones says the bot decision created a mountain of excess work for employees like himself.

It was in this hectic environment that Jones says it happened. While logged into an official Marriott Twitter account, he believes he probably — and accidentally — clicked “like” on a pro-Tibetan tweet….

Roy and no one else noticed that error that night. But a short 24 hours later, he and a lot of Marriott employees were most definitely aware.


When Beijing noticed the “like”, the s**t hit the fan. Craig Smith, president of Marriott’s Asian division, sat down with the state newspaper, China Daily, in Shanghai and said, “This is a huge mistake, probably one of the biggest in my career.” The story also reported that Marriott had “terminated the contract with…the U.S. based with the US-based employee who ‘liked’ the tweet.” Jones found out about his termination by reading that story.

And at this point, you might wonder: If this is such a big deal, why did a $14-an-hour employee ever have the power to infuriate China?

That’s a fantastic question, Roy Jones himself thinks.

He says he got zero training on how to handle issues that might inflame the Chinese government. “My job isn’t to decide whether Tibet is a country,” he says. “I’m a customer care rep in Omaha, Nebraska.”

Although he’d already read about his termination in China Daily, Jones met with a “top HR official” who’d flown from Bethesda, MD to Omaha to “investigate” the situation. The executive offered Jones a $3,000 severance package, but Jones walked away.

“There are things more important than money,” he says.

He starts to cry.

“This job was so important to me,” he says.

Roy Jones freely admits he’s far from saintly. He spent time in Boys Town as a teenager. He developed drug and alcohol dependency issues before graduating from high school, and eventually got three DUIs as a young adult. He bounced aimlessly from job to job.

But the Marriott job was different, he said. In his 18 months there, he had been promoted once, then given a raise, as superiors rewarded his skill and hard work.

“This was such a big step for me to find a job I loved, one I took to with passion and heart,” he says. He takes off his glasses and dries his eyes with his shirt sleeve.

“I will live in my own bed. That’s what people do. But I do have an issue with this. I do. How is this right?”


It’s not right in any way, Mr. Jones. It’s absolutely wrong for Marriott to have sacrificed your livelihood in order to keep cash flow from a brutal dictatorship running on through the company coffers. If the statute of limitations hasn’t run on what could be a wrongful termination case, I’d imagine there are a few employment law attorneys who’d be happy to take the case.



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