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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16 August 2019

China business or human rights? Hong Kong protests leave Cathay facing a tough balancing act

Author: Surya Deva, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

The recent notice from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, that no Cathay Pacific staff who had taken part in “illegal protests”, “violent actions” and “overly radical activities” would be allowed to fly to or from mainland China – and the response of Cathay as well as its major investor Swire to this notice – has put the spotlight on the issue of companies’ human rights responsibilities. Similar questions have been raised about the responsibility of companies supplying tear gas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to Hong Kong Police, or of companies whose shopping malls protesters may enter and take shelter in.

…In June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), which outline an authoritative framework for corporate human rights responsibility…over and above any responsibility that companies may have under domestic laws…Moreover, Cathay Pacific has a code of conduct which provides…that any “form of harassment or discrimination on the basis of … political opinion will not be tolerated”…

So far, Cathay has (i) sacked two of its airport employees for leaking information, (ii) terminated the employment of two pilots for their involvement in, or support for, protests, (iii) instructed that Cathay property should not be used to post non-work content or to make unauthorised public announcements, and (iv) advised its employees not to “express any radical opinions in social and open media” or “support or participate in illegal protests”, or otherwise face disciplinary action, including  termination of employment…

Cathay’s decision in the first situation would be justified and in line with its responsibility to protect the privacy of its customers, as long as due process was followed and the disciplinary action was proportional to the alleged wrong conduct. However, the dismissal of two pilots, who were previously suspended from duty, for protest-related incidents is problematic. The pilot charged for alleged rioting has not yet been convicted, and, even if convicted, this should not be equated with a typical crime.The conduct of the other pilot hardly compromised passenger safety or harmed Cathay’s reputation. The termination, which appears to have been done to please Beijing and discourage other staff from supporting protests, would run counter to Cathay’s responsibility to respect the human rights of its employees…

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18 August 2019

Cathay Pacific CEO praised for not giving names of staff joining Hong Kong protest

Author: Arthur Villasanta, International Business Times

Rupert Hogg, former CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, is being widely hailed as a hero for refusing China’s request he provide them with the names of all Cathay Pacific employees that took part in the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. China, which is the second largest shareholder of Cathay through state-owned Air China Ltd, also ordered Hogg to suspend these employees from work. Hogg responded. He provided Beijing with a list that only had one name on it -- his own. Hogg then resigned on Aug. 16 rather than betray his employees and endanger their safety, according to reports. Oddly, news of Hogg’s resignation was first made public by China’s state-controlled media outlets...Cathay Pacific officially announced Hogg’s departure 30 minutes later.

China seems to be floating the story it had Hogg fired to tamp-down on the widespread support Hogg is getting for his courageous decision to resign. On the other hand, Hong Kong media stories concur Hogg was asked to hand over a list of Cathay employees. Hogg responded by providing his own name. Hogg’s heroic defiance prompted many Hong Kong netizens to praise him with comments....

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26 August 2019

Business and Human Rights Network Hong Kong issues briefing note on human rights responsibilities of business enterprises concerning ongoing protests

Author: Business and Human Rights Network Hong Kong

Business and Human Rights Network Hong Kong (Network) is a platform of civil society organisations and individuals committed to promoting business respect for human rights in Hong Kong and mainland China in line with all relevant national, regional and international standards.

The Network is concerned that the governments as well as businesses are either not aware of their human rights obligations/responsibilities under applicable international standards, especially the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), or not integrating these into their decisions in relation to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The media reports on the matter also make no reference to the UNGPs or other relevant standards.

This briefing note provides guidance to all relevant stakeholders, especially government agencies and businesses. The Network strongly urges all government agencies and business enterprises to consider their respective human rights obligations or responsibilities under the UNGPs before taking any decision or action on matters related to the Hong Kong protests.

Human rights obligations of states in relation to businesses

States have a legally binding obligation under international human rights law to protect individuals against human rights abuses by business enterprises within their territory or jurisdiction. To discharge this obligation, states should, for instance, set expectations for businesses through effective laws, introduce policy measures to incentivise companies to respect human rights, investigate cases of human rights abuses by businesses, and provides remedies to affected victims.

This obligation applies to both ‘host’ and ‘home’ states of businesses. In the context of the Hong Kong protests, the Central Government of China, the HKSAR Government and the governments of all other countries whose companies are operating in Hong Kong have an obligation to ensure that these enterprises do not violate human rights while doing business.

Therefore, no government department or agency should give business enterprises any direction that undermines their ability to respect the human rights of their employees, customers or other stakeholders.

Human rights responsibilities of business enterprises

Under the UNGPs, all business enterprises have a responsibility to respect all human rights. This means (i) making a policy commitment to respect human rights; (ii) conducting human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their adverse impacts on human rights; and (iii) providing remedies in cases in which they have caused or contributed to any adverse human rights impacts.

This responsibility is over and above their obligation to comply with all local laws. It is also independent of the obligations of states: even if a state is ignoring its human rights obligations, business enterprises should still respect human rights. It is no excuse for businesses to say that local laws or regulations do not allow them to respect human rights. Principle 23(b) of the UNGPs stipulates that business enterprises should “seek ways to honour the principles of internationally recognized human rights when faced with conflicting requirements”.

A business enterprise may cause or contribute to adverse human rights impacts, or it may be directly linked to certain adverse impacts through its operations, products or services. In all these situations, it should take appropriate due diligence steps in consultation with its stakeholders to identify, prevent and mitigate such adverse impacts.

Businesses should respect human rights as part of risk management, for breach of human rights standards may attract legal action, social media backlash, consumers boycotts, employee dissatisfaction, project delays, and investor criticism. In any case, respecting human rights should form part of a business enterprise’s strategy to generate long-term value for investors and build a sustainable business.

Human rights due diligence, transparency and meaningful consultation with affected stakeholders are critical tools that all business enterprises operating in Hong Kong and mainland China should use to deal with protests-related challenges, rather than reacting to short-term pressures emanating from different sources.

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28 August 2019

Hong Kong protest-related MTR closures challenged in court

Author: Chris Lau, South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s railway operator was… hit with a legal challenge against its suspension of services… which allegedly left anti-government protesters stranded on the streets, resulting in disturbances.

Kwok Cheuk-kin, a former civil servant known for bringing challenges against the authorities… filed the application for a judicial review against the MTR Corporation at the High Court. Referring to violent clashes in east Kowloon last week, he said: “All of that was caused by the MTR Corporation.”…

Kwok’s court filing said the suspended train services left protesters with no means of leaving. Police officers had to take action because the crowd was building up, he suggested. So it caused tension to escalate, resulting in the clashes, he said. He asked the court to find that “the MTR Corporation should bear the consequences of the two disturbances”.

Speaking outside court, Kwok criticised the corporation for, as he saw it, not placing its trust in the court. Last week the operator sought an injunction order barring protesters from besieging stations, as it became increasingly embroiled in the political crisis. Kwok said that, with the injunction order, it would be unnecessary for the MTR Corp to suspend services…

An MTR Corp spokesman said it had no comment on the case.

Protesters have complained that the rail giant turned a blind eye to unnecessary police force inside station, and allowed alleged gang members to attack them… at a station in Yuen Long…

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29 August 2019

Cathay Pacific whistle-blowing policy urging staff to ‘speak up’ under spotlight as Hong Kong employees fear possible reprisals for support of anti-government protests

Author: Danny Lee & Sum Lok-kei, South China Morning Post

In an internal memo… Cathay Pacific Airways has reminded its staff about its policy to speak up and act as “whistle-blowers” as a climate of fear grows among the airline’s employees about possible reprisals for their activities on social media…

… It was feared the policy could encourage staff to report on colleagues, rather than protecting employees who feel they are being unfairly targeted from repercussions.

…The revised code of conduct added a new section on political activities, which barred staff from using company resources to express political opinions, and which stipulated that should staff seek permission to take part in protests, and should not wear uniform while doing so and should not give the impression the company has endorsed the protest.

It also outlined – as staff were previously warned last week – that taking part in illegal political activities was unacceptable, and could ultimately result in an investigation and dismissal from the firm.

Tom Owen, the airline’s human resources chief, told staff in a memo… “We do not take any of these decisions lightly and for every decision we make, we believe it is in the best interest of the Cathay Pacific Group, taking into account all the relevant factors,”…

The point was a reference in particular to the company submitting names of staff to Chinese authorities for pre-approval before flights entering or overflying China…

… at least 20 aviation professionals, including one engineer, had been sacked or had resigned after Beijing exerted pressure on companies to crack down on the anti-government movement sweeping the city…

A Cathay Pacific spokeswoman said the whistle-blowing policy was not a newly added item to its code of conduct… “We are committed to creating an environment in which our colleagues are encouraged and protected to share any potential risk about safety and security”… the company also warned that staff’s social media postings would be heavily scrutinised, adding that those expressing support for illegal anti-government protests in Hong Kong could fall foul of a strict new policy being forced on the airline by mainland China’s aviation authority…

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29 August 2019

Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon fires flight attendant union chief amid pressure from China

Author: Kris Cheng, Hong Kong Free Press

Airline Cathay Dragon has fired the chair of its flight attendant union Rebecca Sy after she allegedly posted messages of support for Hong Kong protesters on Facebook...

At a… press conference, Sy said she had been able to fly to Beijing and back to Hong Kong… However, she was told not to work on a scheduled Hangzhou trip after the Beijing flight. She said she was told to go to Cathay Pacific’s headquarters… and was shown three Facebook screenshots which she confirmed were hers. She was then immediately terminated…

Carol Ng, chair of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the aviation industry was likely targeted because it had the highest participation rate in the August 5 strike…

Cathay Pacific, the parent company of Cathay Dragon, declined to comment on internal employee matters.

In a new statement issued… Cathay Pacific Director Corporate Affairs James Tong said: “Cathay Pacific wishes to emphasise it fully supports the upholding of the Basic Law and all the rights and freedoms afforded by it.” “We are a leading international airline with global operations and therefore we are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where we operate,” it added…

Cathay Pacific has faced pressure from China as the CAAC imposed new safety rules on the airline… forcing the carrier to prevent employees supportive of the Hong Kong protests to board flights to, or passing over, China.

… Cathay Pacific released a statement saying Sy’s dismissal had nothing to do with her activities in the union but declined to elaborate further on the reason for her departure. “We would like to reiterate that we do not in any way discriminate against union members or their activities…” it read…


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29 August 2019

‘Zero tolerance’: Cathay Pacific warns staff face sack if they join Hong Kong strike

Author: AFP, Hong Kong Free Press

Cathay Pacific has warned staff they risk being sacked if they join a planned Hong Kongstrike, as the airline intensifies its crackdown on employee support for the rolling pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier… has been accused of bowing to political pressure from China, whose aviation regulator has banned airline staff who have supported the demonstrations from working on flights through its airspace.

In an internal memo to staff, a Cathay director, Tom Owen, said participating in a strike planned for Monday and Tuesday could constitute a breach of contract. “We expect all of our employees to report for work as normal and over this period and will be monitoring attendance levels closely,” he said in the memo… “Any breach of policy or regulatory requirements will be investigated and may lead to termination of contract.”

The memo caps a sharp U-turn by the airline which publicly supported the right to free expression of its workforce earlier this month, only to crumble in the face of pressure from Beijing…

Several staff have told AFP they believe a witchhunt is underway, with employees frantically deleting social media posts and gutting their friends lists fearing disciplinary action if they are found to have any links with the protests.

The company has also issued a revised code of conduct to employees including reiterating its “zero tolerance” approach to staff participating in “illegal protests”.

Protest groups are calling for a general strike on Monday and Tuesday, three months into escalating pro-democracy protests that have rocked the city and damaged Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable business hub…

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1 September 2019

China’s disinformation on Hong Kong protests is on Twitter and Facebook

Author: Tripti Lahiri, Quartz

… Twitter… said it had found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement.” It’s suspended 936 accounts originating from within China that “were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.” It also created an archive of the accounts for further research.

Twitter’s announcement came after a thread from Maciej Cegłowski, the outspoken developer behind the @Pinboard Twitter account, as well as news reports, which flagged promoted messages from Chinese state-run news media such as Xinhua showing up in users’ feeds. Twitter is blocked in China, but the platform said that some of the accounts were using unblocked IP addresses originating in mainland China.

Twitter also said it was updating its advertising policies to stop taking ads from state-controlled news media; the policy will not apply to publicly funded but independent news broadcasters…

Facebook also announced… that it had removed seven pages, three groups, and five accounts linked to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on the Hong Kong protests…

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1 September 2019

Crackdown on Chinese accounts shows US social media giants becoming ‘more proactive’

Author: Simone McCarthy, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

The swift crackdown on an alleged disinformation campaign linked to Hong Kong’s anti-government protests shows social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are becoming more proactive about dismantling influence operations, according to analysts…

Pressure from the United States, the European Council and others to root out political disinformation, and the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in April… had pushed the platforms to do more to monitor politically motivated and state-sponsored activities, they said.

“We haven’t seen this kind of speed and coordination before [from the platforms], it’s always been dragging and kicking social media companies to do something – here they seem to have been more proactive. The explanation has to be more than technical, and it has to be more than geopolitical,” said David Fidler, adjunct senior fellow for cybersecurity at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York…

… Twitter suspended 936 accounts and Facebook closed five accounts, seven pages and three groups.

YouTube’s parent company Google… said it had disabled 210 channels for “coordinated” uploads of videos relating to the Hong Kong protests…

Statements from Facebook and Google also noted coordination between the companies in their investigations. Facebook confirmed it had acted on a tip from Twitter, while Google confirmed exchanging information with “industry partners” when investigating threats.

That level of coordination was indicative of how the companies had “scaled up” their investment around security and detection of platform manipulation… according to Jake Wallis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre…

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1 September 2019

Google shuts down 210 Youtube channels posting ‘coordinated’ disinformation about Hong Kong protests

Author: Anthony Cuthbertson, Independent (UK)

Google has removed hundreds of YouTube channels for uploading videos in a “coordinated manner” about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The technology giant said 210 channels were disabled in order to protect the integrity of its platform, pointing to Chinese attempts to spread disinformation and manipulate the pro-democracy protests.

The move comes just days after Facebook and Twitter removed accounts linked to China that were being used to undermine the protests.

“Earlier this week, as part of our ongoing efforts to combat coordinated influence operations, we disabled 210 channels on YouTube when we discovered channels in this network behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos relating to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong,” Google said in a statement.

“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”…

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