Update on Corporate Bad Actors in Hong Kong
February 14, 2023
In October 2022, Hong Kong Democracy Council released the report, “Business NOT As Usual: International Companies in the New Authoritarian Hong Kong.” It emphasized the increased risks for international companies to operate in a Hong Kong that has rapidly descended into authoritarianism, and articulated guidelines for them to avoid complicity in the systematic human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government.
The report listed 32 “corporate bad actors:” international companies that were found to have violated the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in Hong Kong. It identified five types of unacceptable corporate behavior: 1) enabling police violence, 2) taking action against dissidents, 3) aiding authoritarian governance, 4) endorsing the regime, and 5) amplifying propaganda.
As we have noted in our report, international companies must understand the current political context and proactively articulate and implement due diligence processes specific to the Hong Kong context to ensure that they avoid complicity in human rights abuses committed by the regime.
The Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit (GFLIS) on November 1 to 3 will take place against a backdrop of society-wide, systematic human rights abuses by the Hong Kong government and the stripping of Hong Kong’s autonomy by the Chinese Communist Party. In the past three years, freedom of expression has been greatly restricted, with many types of speech criminalized and prosecuted. Freedom of assembly has likewise suffered, with all protests banned and the right to assembly indefinitely suspended. Freedom of association has been sharply curtailed, with dozens of organizations, trade unions, student organizations, human rights groups, independent media, and many of Hong Kong’s biggest and oldest nonprofits–forced to close.
The erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy have damaged the city’s status as a global financial center. In order to salvage the city’s plummeting reputation, the Hong Kong government is using the summit as part of a campaign to rebuild Hong Kong’s image by announcing to the rest of the world that Hong Kong is “back in business.” Global finance leaders’ attendance at the GFLIS is being used by the Hong Kong government to legitimize its authoritarian rule; in fact, HKMA asserts that the global finance leaders who will attend are “staunch supporters of Hong Kong.”
By attending the GFLIS, these global finance leaders are lending credibility not only to the government’s whitewashing campaign, but also to Beijing’s handpicked Chief Executive of Hong Kong, John Lee, who is scheduled to open the GFLIS with “welcoming remarks.”