Hong Kong: Business actions and statements over controversial extradition bill

In February 2019, the Hong Kong government proposed the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, more commonly known as the extradition bill. While allowing the transfer of a suspect from Hong Kong to Taiwan for a murder case, the proposed bill would also allow the transfer of criminal suspects to other jurisdictions with which the city has no extradition agreements, including mainland China. The proposal bill has faced widespread criticism and opposition both domestically and internationally. Many worry that the bill would destroy the rule of law in Hong Kong and put the integrity of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle at stake. The anti-extradition law sentiment intensified in June, sparking off a series of street protests, including two large-scale protests on 9 June and 16 June in which millions of citizens took to the street and urged the government to fully withdraw the bill.

Some stakeholders from the business sector have also publicly expressed their concerns that the bill might undermine overseas investors’ confidence in Hong Kong and damage the reputation of the city as an international financial centre. 

On 9 July, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of the Special Administrative Region, said that there was no plan to restart the amendment process and that “the bill is dead”. On 4 Sptember, Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill. 

In August, "Cathay Pacific Airways…said it had sacked a pilot who was arrested and charged over clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Sheung Wan on July 28. Another cockpit crew member…who was revealed…to have been suspended for misusing company information related to the protests, also had his employment terminated."; it was reported that at least 20 aviation professionals had been fired or had resigned amidst the ongoing anti-government protests. Cathay Pacific also urged staff members to "speak up" under its whistle-blowing policy in an internal memo, raising concern over Cathay’s responsibility to respect the human rights of its employees… "Similar questions have been raised about the responsibility of companies supplying tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to Hong Kong Police"

MTR, Hong Kong's rail operator, has come under increasing pressure when protestors and lawmakers asked for the release of the CCTV footage at Prince Edward station from the night of 31 August "when riot police stormed the platform and trains using pepper spray and batons". MTR said in response to media inquiries that "the relevant footage from Prince Edward station will be kept for three years".


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8 October 2019

Vans reportedly removes submission depicting Hong Kong protesters from design competition, sparking heated backlash and boycott

Author: Jordyn Holman, Bloomberg

“Vans Is Latest U.S. Company Caught Up in Hong Kong Protests”, 8 Oct 2019

… During its annual shoe-design competition that is currently underway, Vans reportedly removed a submission from its website that depicted both a flower symbol of Hong Kong and protesters wearing gas masks, goggles and hard hats. The move sparked heated backlash across social media. Some called for a boycott of the skateboarding shoe brand popular with young people after it pulled the submission.

In statement posted on its Facebook page, Vans said: “We have never taken a political position and therefore review designs to ensure they are in line with our company’s long-held values of respect and tolerance, as well as with our clearly communicated guidelines for this competition.” While it didn’t specify which designs it removed, the company said that “a small number of artistic submissions have been removed.”

Representatives from Vans and its parent company, VF Corp., didn’t respond to requests for comment…

Sneaker chain Dahood, which operates several Vans franchises in Hong Kong, wrote in a Facebook post… that it was suspending operations at three locations in the city “until further notice” because of “the controversy caused by the Custom Culture design competition held by Vans worldwide.”…

[Also referred to Starbucks Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.]

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4 October 2019

Hong Kong: Starbucks urged to end relationship with license owner Maxim's Group after founder's daughter spoke against protest movement

Author: Grady McGregor, Fortune

“Starbucks in Hong Kong: Caught in the Crossfire”, 2 Oct 2019

… Like many Hong Kong businesses caught up in the clashes between protesters and police and their negative effects on the local economy, Starbucks' storefronts are collateral damage in the battle over control of the island territory. But they are also an example of the delicate balance international chains must walk as they weigh Hong Kong's push for democracy against the opportunities in China's growing market.

In conversations with Fortune, several protesters who spray-painted one Starbucks location expressed anger not towards Starbucks per se, but at Maxim’s Group, which owns Starbucks licenses in Hong Kong and Macau…

In recent weeks, Maxim’s Group has come under fire for its perceived pro-Beijing ties, and specifically because the daughter of Maxim’s founder, Annie Wu, spoke out against the protest movement to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“For the last 6 months, Hong Kong has become a place for riots,” she said in an interview with CGTN about the meeting while reiterating her support for the Hong Kong police force in helping “maintain law and order” in the city.

Through vandalism, boycotts, and other means, protesters have also targeted dozens of other Maxim’s shops as well as countless stores with explicit ties to the mainland, such as China Mobile and Bank of China.

Protesters have further ramped up pressure in recent days as Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong demanded that Starbucks “consider whether Maxim's truly represents the social values of Starbucks and terminate the [relationship with] Maxim's immediately.” He included a link to a petition that has collected nearly 55,000 signatures at the time of publication.

Both Starbucks and Maxim’s Group declined to comment to Fortune on the recent protests, though Maxim’s recently released a statement distancing itself from the controversy. “Ms. Wu is not employed in any position or capacity at the company,” the statement read…

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2 October 2019

YouTube pulls down video spoof of protest anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ over copyright infringement accusations

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

The video-sharing platform YouTube… removed a controversial video version of the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong with lyrics changed to be supportive of police and disparaging of the anti-government movement.

YouTube said on its website the music video was taken down because it “contains content from Goomusic, who has blocked it on copyright grounds”.

Goomusic is linked to Denise Ho Wan-see, a local singer and activist who has frequently joined pro-democracy protests in recent months. She also testified at a US Congress hearing about the political turmoil in Hong Kong.

A self-described pro-Hong Kong group, including pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, uploaded the new video… but it was removed by YouTube hours later.

The release triggered immediate outrage among fans of the original song, while a local lawyer said the rendition clearly violated the city’s copyright laws…

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1 October 2019

Hong Kong: Unions say at least 26 Cathay staff were fired in protest-linked terminations

Author: Hong Kong Free Press

"Sacked Hong Kong Cathay staff decry ‘Cultural Revolution’ purge", 1 Oct 2019

Former Cathay Pacific staff who say they were fired for supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters accused bosses… of carrying out a “Cultural revolution” style political purge.

The Hong Kong-based airline has had a torrid few weeks after Chinese state media and authorities blasted the company because some of its 27,000 employees had taken part in — or were sympathetic to — anti-government protesters.

China’s aviation regulator barred staff supporting protests from working on flights to the mainland or traveling through its airspace, setting off chaos inside the company…

In recent weeks staff have described deleting their social media accounts, fearful that colleagues might inform on them while Cathay announced it had sacked multiple staff linked to the protests.

… a group of former employees held a press conference alongside officials from the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Confederation and flight attendant unions. They said at least 26 people had been fired from Cathay in protest-linked terminations.

Hiding their identities behind sunglasses and face masks they described summary firings, often after being shown screengrabs of their Facebook and other social media posts.

“It’s regrettable to see Cathay Pacific encouraging staff to report and criticise (others) internally,” one woman, who gave her first name as Jackie, told reporters. “The situation is just like in the Cultural Revolution.” “Some crew were shown posts and updates on their private social media accounts and required to provide an explanation with evidence. Others were handed termination letters without any accusations,” she added…

In a statement, Cathay said it had to abide by all regulations placed on it in any jurisdictions where it operates, “including those prescribed by the authorities in mainland China”... 

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16 September 2019

HSBC chairman Mark Tucker condemns violent protests in Hong Kong

Author: Amanda Lee, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

… Speaking publicly for the first time about the summer of unrest, HSBC chairman Mark Tucker said Hong Kong thrived because of its stability, resilience and rule of law.

“Its rule of law is essential to its status as an international financial centre. And we fully support the resolving of the issues peacefully, but under the framework of one country, two systems,” Tucker said in an interview with China Central Television…

“And we really look forward to being part of a peaceful and prosperous Hong Kong and clearly supporting China’s growth and development.

“We strongly condemn violence of any sort, any kind of disruption to communities where customers, staff and shareholders are based. We clearly have deep concern.”…

Tucker is the most senior executive from the British bank to join the chorus of business leaders condemning violence sparked by protests against the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

His comments follow advertisements in several Hong Kong Chinese-language broadsheet newspapers… [in August] by HSBC, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia, calling for calm and a return to order…

[Also referred to Cathay Pacific, KPMG, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Zara]

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12 September 2019

US lawmakers introduce bill to stop tear gas sales to Hong Kong

Author: Owen Churchill, South China Morning Post

US congressional representatives announced legislation… calling for a ban on sales of riot control equipment to Hong Kong law enforcement services…

If passed, the bill would prohibit US companies from exporting so-called non-lethal crowd control items like tear gas, as well as defence articles and services, to Hong Kong, where the local police force is facing growing criticism of its response to protests…

Titled the PROTECT Hong Kong Act… [the] bill is sponsored by Representatives James McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, Christopher Smith, Republican of New Jersey, and Ro Khanna, Democrat of California… As well as barring defence-related sales to Hong Kong, the new law would also require the Secretary of State to issue a report to Congress detailing all the defence articles and munition items that had been exported to the city over the five years leading up to the bill’s date of enactment…

“America ought to recognise the human rights and dignity of all people,” said McGovern, who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission alongside Smith. “And that means we ought not to allow American companies to sell this equipment to foreign governments when we see evidence that it is being used for immoral and unjust purposes.”

… the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it had reviewed credible evidence that law enforcement officials in Hong Kong had employed non-lethal weapons “in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards”… [Also referred to Nonlethal Technologies]

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6 September 2019

Extradition bill’s withdrawal ‘is first step’ in getting Hong Kong back to business

Author: South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong’s business community welcomed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s decision… to withdraw her administration’s proposed extradition bill, with industry groups calling it the first step to restoring confidence and the city’s international reputation.

After three months of protests against the bill, Lam said the proposed legislation would be dropped completely as one of four measures to ease public concern and allow the city to move forward…

The measures were in response to the protesters’ five demands, which included withdrawing the bill completely and setting up a commission of inquiry into the police’s use of force…

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) welcomed the government’s response.

“Withdrawing the bill is an important first step to restore business confidence and the city’s international reputation. We believe an enhanced inquiry via the Independent Police Complaints Council to look into the events since June is a positive step ahead,” AmCham chairman Robert Grieves said…

Joe Chau Kwok-ming, president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business, also said that withdrawing the bill was a first step to showing the administration’s goodwill in resolving the political crisis…

Chinese Manufacturers’ Association president Dennis Ng Wang-pun said the announcement was vital to reducing tensions in the city…

Stewart Leung Chi-kin, executive committee chairman of the Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong, said the announcement was a “good start” and “better than not doing anything”… [Also referred to Midland Realty, Henderson Land Development, Sun Hung Kai Properties, CK Hutchison Holdings and Chinachem Group]

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6 September 2019

Hong Kong lawmaker and protesters demand CCTV footage of police storming MTR station

Author: Holmes Chan, Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong’s rail operator has come under increasing pressure to release CCTV footage of Prince Edward MTR station from the night of August 31, when riot police stormed the platform and trains using pepper spray and batons.

… a growing crowd of people joined a sit-in outside the station’s control room, saying they would not leave until the footage was released. Some wore placards that read: “We have the right to know the truth.”

Pro-democracy camp convenor Claudia Mo previously wrote to the chairperson of the MTR Corporation, asking that the surveillance footage of Prince Edward, Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei stations from August 31 be made public…  “MTRC’s actions have caused great panic, leading the public to question whether it helped the police to cover up injuries or casualties… the CCTV footage is the only way to reconstruct the truth.”

Responding to media inquiries, the MTRC said… that the relevant footage from Prince Edward station will be kept for three years.

A company representative told lawmaker Mo via WhatsApp: “Generally speaking, CCTV footage would be kept for 28 days according to our established rules and procedures. Only authorised persons may view them. In any event, many CCTVs have been damaged earlier on that night.”

Mo added that she was told the MTRC would turn over its surveillance footage if there was a court order to do so. In the meantime, lawmakers were not allowed to watch it because they do not fall under the category of “authorised persons.”

Lawmaker Fernando Cheung said he had received assurances that the CCTV footage would typically be kept for 28 days. Cheung said he was trying to get legal advice to see if there were public interest grounds for lawmakers to see the footage…

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6 September 2019

Hong Kong protestor site accused Baidu and Qihoo of cyber attacks; cybersecurity expert said attacks initiated by Chinese websites were unlikely

Author: Jane Li, Quartz

“A Hong Kong protester site says cyber attacks against it piggy-backed off China’s Baidu”, 2 September 2019

… LIHKG, the de facto online headquarters for protestors, who use the website to exchange tips and comments about the movement, said it came under an “unprecedented” distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack on Aug. 31, with the episode leading to denied access to the website for some of its users. DDoS is a form of cyber attack that floods a targeted machine or server with so many requests the system gets overloaded and can’t fulfill some or all legitimate requests from actual users.

“We have reasons to believe that there is a power, or even a national level power behind to organize such attacks as botnet from all over the world were manipulated in launching this attack,” the website, which is run by anonymous operators, announced in a post…

The forum identified two Chinese websites as being among those involved in the attack, including Baidu Tieba, an online forum under Baidu, the largest search engine in China, and qihucdn.com, which some LIHKG users believe belongs to Qihoo360, a Chinese internet security firm. Baidu declined to comment, while Qihoo360 did not reply to a request for a comment.

K, a cybersecurity expert… said his diagnosis shows the attacks were unlikely initiated by Baidu and the other Chinese websites themselves. Rather, he suspects the attacks happened because the websites were perhaps “compromised” through some malicious Javascript inserted in their content delivery network (CDN), a system of distributed servers that deliver pages and other web content to users. According to K, the “compromised” scripts could effectively lead to the computers of anyone that visits the affected Chinese websites to launch the DDoS attack on LIHKG.

It is unclear whether Baidu or Qihoo is aware of the issue, or which organization might have inserted malicious scripts into the servers, he added…[Also referred to Telegram, Twitter, Github]

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6 September 2019

Hong Kong: Union urges cleaners to be provided protective gear when cleaning up after anti-government protests

Author: Ng Kang Chung, South China Morning Post

“Hong Kong’s cleaners don’t have proper protection against effects of tear gas as they pick up pieces after protests”, 4 September 2019

A union representing workers who clean Hong Kong’s streets, public toilets and markets has asked they be provided with protective gear as anti-government violence continues to escalate. The Cleaning Workers Union also wants rules eased so workers can stop what they are doing without fear of being punished if clashes break out near them.

A survey of 75 cleaners… found that none of them were properly protected from the effects of tear gas, and some complained about eye and respiratory pain after being exposed to the chemical weapon…

 “Although the government contracts out cleaning work to private companies, the government still has an obligation to make sure the workers are safe,” she [the union’s spokeswoman] said.

“The government should give more guidelines to the contractors, say, the cleaners should have an early leave before protests happen. Even the MTR closes stations before big protests.”…

In response, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it attached great importance to the safety of employees working for its contractors.

“In case there is protest or mass public event that could affect the safety of cleaners, we would ask the cleaners to stop work, and for the company to send them to a safe and suitable site elsewhere to work,” said the department in a statement…

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