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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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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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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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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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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15 August 2019

Anti-Riot bullets made by two Florida companies used to brutalize protesters in Hong Kong

Author: New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Violent clashes between protesters and police in Hong Kong continue weeks after mass demonstrations in the city first turned ugly in June…

… The United States, another major supplier of nonlethal weapons to Hong Kong, has yet to announce whether it will enact its own export ban…

Defense Technology, owned by the Jacksonville-based company Safariland, sells nonlethal weapons and riot gear; AMTEC Less-Lethal (ALS), which is part of Pacem Defense Corporation, is run out of Perry, a city about an hour southeast of Tallahassee, and offers similar products. Both have manufactured munitions being used by Hong Kong police to brutalize protesters. Neither company responded to requests for comment from New Times…

Photos circulated online in recent weeks by journalists and protesters in Hong Kong show sponge-tipped rounds and rubber-bullet casings with branding from the Florida companies. Riot police are reportedly using ALS's 1202 rubber rocket, a projectile made of rubber and plastic to produce "blunt trauma and pain compliance," according to the manufacturer…

Safariland's sponge-tipped munitions, which might sound tame, are not as dangerous as rubber bullets but can still cause serious damage…

Though rubber bullets and sponge-tipped rounds are considered nonlethal, they can easily kill or maim a person if used improperly. Photos from the Hong Kong protest show police, at dangerously close distances, firing indiscriminately at protesters. But even when used as intended, rubber bullets and other anti-riot munitions have an incredibly poor track record due to their inaccuracy…

… New Jersey Republican Christopher Smith and Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern, the co-chairs of a U.S. House commission on human rights, released a bipartisan plea to the Trump administration to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd-control gear to Hong Kong police…

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15 August 2019

Hong Kong’s developers blame violent acts of anti-government protesters for worsening economic slump and erosion of city’s values

Author: Michelle Wong, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

The league of Hong Kong’s real estate developers has again condemned anti-government protesters, accusing them of worsening the city’s economic slump and eroding its core values.

The second statement by the Real Estate Developers Association (Reda)… came a day after Beijing called the escalating violence “signs of terrorism”.

“The Real Estate Developers Association of Hong Kong strongly condemns the escalating violent behaviour and vandalisation. These are eroding the city’s core values and worsening its economic downturn while threatening the safety of the general public,” read the statement that was signed by 41 developers, including all the major players and Chinese Estates Holdings, which did not join the first call for peace made by 16 firms…

… Reda made its first statement after Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, denounced the protests as bearing the “obvious characteristics of a colour revolution”… and urged about 500 political and business leaders, who met him in Shenzhen in mainland China, to fearlessly safeguard the city’s rule of law.

Sun Hung Kai Properties, the city’s largest developer, also published a statement urging the protesters to stop violence and join in a dialogue... “The protesters’ violent behaviour and challenge to the rule of law have damaged Hong Kong’s economy and seriously affected people’s lives…,” the developer wrote in a statement...

It was the second call from a developer for peace after former chairman of Wheelock and Wharf (Holdings) Peter Woo Kwong-ching issued a personal statement… urging the protesters to stop the violence.

In a statement… Henderson Land Development also expressed support for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and police, and urged protesters not to “bring Hong Kong to a point of no return”… 

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13 August 2019

Cathay Pacific sacks two pilots over Hong Kong protest-related incidents

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

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.

A spokeswoman said the move was made “in accordance with the terms and conditions of their employment contracts”. The sackings came after the company fired two airport ground employees for leaking the passenger information details of a Hong Kong police soccer team. “Cathay Pacific wishes to make it clear that we express no view whatsoever on the subject matter of any ongoing proceedings,” the airline said …

Cathay Pacific and sister carrier Cathay Dragon, reportedly under pressure from Beijing, have publicly supported the Hong Kong government’s handling of the escalating protest movement. On Wednesday, the company reiterated its “firm support” for the city’s embattled government…

Last Friday, China’s aviation regulator banned any Cathay staff who had taken part in illegal protests from operating flights in mainland airspace. The Civil Aviation Administration of China’s demands also included the airline submitting aircrew lists for Cathay flights entering Chinese airspace for pre-approval. Flights which did not go through the procedure would be barred from its airspace. As a result of the threat of losing the right to fly to and over Chinese airspace, Cathay has cracked down hard on staff. On Monday, the company threatened to sack any employee who actively supported the protest movement, including taking part in the illegal airport demonstrations…

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12 August 2019

Hong Kong: Stronger crowd control weapons & ammunition used in recent protests

Author: Holmes Chan, Hong Kong Free Press

"Explainer: Police crowd control gear used during Hong Kong’s latest protest clashes", 31 Jul 2019

Since June, Hong Kong police have cracked down on anti-extradition bill protests using a variety of crowd control weapons and ammunition – some used for the first time... [O]n June 12, officers fired around 150 tear gas canisters, “several” rounds of rubber bullets, and 20 beanbag shots to clear demonstrators... [P]olice also deployed pepper-spray balls and so-called “sponge grenades.” [N]etizens circulated a photo showing a pile of spent ammunition... Amnesty International has called on authorities around the world to suspend all transfers of less-lethal crowd control equipment... [P]rojectile...called a “sponge grenade” [was used]...  ALS did not respond to...request for comment.. Whilst they are meant to be non-lethal, a 16-year-old was killed in Israel by a sponge round, according to AFP... [P]olice recently switched to... ‘hard rubber’,... one of the stronger types in the series... [M]anufacturer NonLethal Technologies did not respond... Hong Kong police use at least two dispersal methods for tear gas...[A] grenade thrown by hand... according to its UK manufacturer Chemring Defence...[T]he UK suspended export licences for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong... Chemring Defence...did not respond... Police also used launchers to fire CS rounds... The manufacturer noted [the projectile]...could be a fire hazard... With Hong Kong set to see more protests into August, Hong Kong police have been testing water canon vehicles... 

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10 August 2019

Police in Hong Kong are launching tear gas canisters made in Pennsylvania

Author: Philadelphia Inquirer

After Hong Kong police fired 800 tear gas canisters at umbrella-wielding demonstrators on a single day… hundreds of empty aluminum shells littered the streets in the wake of the protests. Many of those shells were made in the Keystone State.

Pennsylvania is a leading manufacturer of tear gas, exported all over the globe. Combined Systems Inc. of Jamestown, south of Erie, and Nonlethal Technologies of Homer City, east of Pittsburgh, are among the top five companies in the world producing “riot control systems,” according to Visiongain, a market research firm based in London…

A spokesperson for Combined Systems, which also makes high-capacity Venom brand grenade launchers, did not return calls for comment. Combined Systems is owned by the Carlyle Group, which manages $13 billion in global assets. Michael Scott Oberdick and James A. Oberdick, the owners of Nonlethal Technologies, also declined to comment…

What police and protesters call tear gas is not a gas at all, said Anna Feigenbaum, a professor at Bournemouth University in England who wrote Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today. Rather, the chemical compounds are toxic powders that are aerosolized as a fog or spray.

“They are designed to attack the senses simultaneously, intentionally producing both physical and psychological trauma,” said Feigenbaum. “It acts as an irritant on multiple sites of the body at once, primarily affecting mucous membranes and respiratory system.”…

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1 August 2019

American Chamber of Commerce urges government to show clear leadership to restore Hong Kong's international reputation

Author: American Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong

“AmCham calls for firm government leadership to restore sagging business confidence”, 29 July 2019

International businesses are feeling pessimistic about the short-term prospects for Hong Kong as escalating violence and political deadlock take their toll on operations and fuel perceptions that the city is becoming a riskier place, a survey of AmCham members has found. The government should take immediate and tangible actions to address the root causes of recent demonstrations and restore confidence in the city’s status as Asia’s preeminent international business and financial center, members said.

 “AmCham urges the government to stem any further damage and show clear leadership in meeting the expectations of Hong Kong people and in restoring the city’s international reputation for effective governance under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” said AmCham President Tara Joseph…

AmCham members representing sectors ranging from financial services to logistics and tech suggested the following ideas for restoring confidence in Hong Kong: To formally and completely withdraw the Extradition Bill in order to remove any room for continued public doubt; to convene an internationally credible independent inquiry into all aspects of recent unrest over the bill, a move that will demonstrate fairness and justice under the rule of law…

… AmCham began surveying members on July 23 to gauge the ongoing impact – if any – on business sentiment. About 12 percent of our membership responded as of midnight on July 25…

The survey found that businesses are already reporting serious consequences from the disruption caused by weeks of mass demonstrations, political paralysis and outbreaks of violence and destructive acts in a city that has won an enviable reputation as one of the world’s safest places.These range from an immediate hit to revenue caused by disruption to supply chains and consumption, to longer term doubts over cancelled events and shelved investments. Respondents also reported a deepening perception within their companies and among overseas customers that Hong Kong has become less safe and a riskier place in which to conduct business…

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