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19 Apr 2022

William Nee, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)

Hong Kong: Why should responsible investors care about trade union crackdown and shrinking of civic space

"The crackdown on trade unions in Hong Kong: what response from responsible investors?" 19 April 2022

The Hong Kong government has vowed to potentially further criminally punish the leaders of the now disbanded the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), which was Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy trade union. [...] Before HKCTU made the decision to dissolve on October 3, 2021, it had roughly 100 affiliated organizations and approximately 145,000 members, according to HKFP. [...]

Why ESG Investors and the International Community Should Care

Trade unions have often stepped in to highlight risks and are well placed to do so. [...] Organisations such as the HKCTU used to regularly engage with the ILO and UN mechanisms, as seen above. However, this sort of interaction with international engagement now comes with great risks. [...]

Put simply, the death of civil society leads to blind spots for companies assessing their operations, leading to greater social and political risks, and businesses must increase the scope and intensity of their human rights due diligence. [...] In other words, ESG investors should expect more from the “S” side – the sometimes neglected “social” aspect of ESG – from companies operating in Hong Kong, mindful that the UNGPs lay down an expectation that businesses respect all internationally recognized human rights, including civil and political rights.

Can companies do more?

It’s important to recognise that the UNGPs are just the minimum international standard for business and human rights, but companies can – and should – go above and beyond. [...]

Foreign businesses and chambers of commerce should voice their concerns about the deteriorating situations for civil society, including trade unions, and their desire to see a rights respecting environment that is stable for business from a new administration. [...]