If HSBC continues to support China’s brutal regime – its customers may go elsewhere
As more and more businesses understand the moral and commercial importance of operating ethically and sustainably, it is only right that we hold these businesses to account for their commitments.
In its most recent Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance strategy, the British headquartered HSBC made a clear and public commitment to support human rights. Despite this, HSBC’s actions in Hong Kong have seemingly been in stark contradiction of these principles.
HSBC has publicly supported China’s National Security Law; draconian legislation imposed by Beijing that has been used to violently suppress Hong Kong’s protest movement in support of democracy and freedom.
This isn’t the only time that HSBC has been seen to cozy up to Beijing, especially when it comes to Hong Kong. The bank was recently accused of doing China’s bidding by freezing the accounts of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. They reportedly collaborated with the Hong Kong police force to target a number of accounts including those of Ted Hui, a former pro-democracy lawmaker who was removed along with three others for the crime of being “unpatriotic”.
HSBC’s defense is that as a vast, multinational organisation, it is obligated to follow the law in the countries in which it conducts business. In Hong Kong, this includes being legally bound to follow requests from police in the city. However, the Hong Kong Police Force has received widespread condemnation for its brutality against protesters – actions that clearly go against the rule of law and have been deemed in violation of international human rights law.
You would think a British headquartered business such as HSBC, whose own corporate responsibility statements claim to support human rights, would be lining up to decry such actions. It seems that HSBC is looking to expand further into China and it seems to me that Chinese money speaks louder than customers’ safety and liberty.
In the week that we celebrate the 180th anniversary of the founding of modern Hong Kong, it is appropriate that key representatives of HSBC are questioned by British parliamentarians about its responsibility and attitude towards Hong Kong.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’m am pleased that we questioned Chief Executive of HSBC, Noel Quinn this week about why the bank has been freezing the accounts of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and why the bank is collaborating with the police force in Hong Kong. As MPs, we serve our constituents and represent their interests, but we also hold the powerful to account and never is this more important than calling on HSBC to rectify its apparent hypocrisy and double standards on human rights. Not to mention their appeasement of Beijing.
I hope that this hearing with MPs will be a wakeup call for HSBC executives and encourage them to consider what their core values really are and how they apply in the real world. Global business relationships and international trade are important, but should never come at the expense of what is right.
If HSBC does not reconsider its position, it may well come to realise that there is a business and economic cost. Under the watchful eye of an increasingly discerning public, more of their customers may choose to vote with their feet and find a bank willing to stand by its values. HSBC’s customers may also find themselves unwilling to give their money to a bank that supports a brutal regime with nothing but contempt for human rights.
Andrew Rosindell is the Conservative MP for Romford