Discrimination should not be tolerated in civilized society

March 04, 2020 18:33
People wearing masks cross a street in the shopping district of Causeway Bay. Restaurants and other businesses should always serve their customers without discrimination. Photo: AFP

One of the sectors hit hard by the novel coronavirus outbreak is the catering industry.

In order to help the industry weather the Covid-19 epidemic, the SAR administration has diverted a huge sum of money from its disease prevention and relief fund to support restaurant operators in the city.

Meanwhile, food outlets are enhancing their sanitation procedures such as by disinfecting chairs and tables more frequently or even taking the temperature of customers.

Unfortunately, some restaurants appear to have overreacted to the health crisis: they have put up signs saying that mainlanders aren't welcome.

And despite repeated warnings from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), some of these outlets have continued with their discriminatory acts.

Such practices will damage the long-standing reputation of professionalism of the city's service industry.

According to the Race Discrimination Ordinance, “it is unlawful for any person concerned with the provision of goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public to discriminate against another person who seeks to obtain or use those goods, facilities or services” on grounds of race, color, family status, ethnicity, etc.

As a business open to the public, a restaurant or any food outlet should always serve its customers without discrimination.

That the eateries in question are putting up notices stating that they won’t provide any service for mainlanders who speak Putonghua, with the exception of Taiwanese people, apparently constitutes discrimination against mainland Chinese.

After the intervention of the EOC, owners of these eateries have come up with another way to stick to their discriminatory approach: telling their employees not to serve any customer in Putonghua.

Again, this could also constitute a violation of the Race Discrimination Ordinance.

To be fair, before the local business environment became so politicized, restaurant waiters and waitresses had been routinely serving mainland customers in Putonghua just as they served foreigners in English.

But the anti-government protests that began in June last year have changed everything.

And the result is that some people who are sympathetic towards the protesters are now blindly pushing for a “yellow economic circle” in an attempt to change the local business environment. These people want local consumers boycott “blue” stores and support “yellow” outlets.

In a free market, Hong Kong consumers have the right to make their own choices. It is only natural for them to go for high-quality products and services that are priced reasonably rather than to base their decisions on the political stance of those who provide the goods and services.

As such, food outlets that discriminate against mainlanders in a high-profile fashion in an attempt to generate hype and draw more customers amid the coronavirus epidemic may be able to boost their business volume in the short run.

In the long run, if they remain obsessed with political issues and, in turn, overlook the importance of maintaining the quality of their food and services, it is just a matter of time before they could eventually be eliminated by market forces.

Article 39 of the Basic Law says: “The provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and international labour conventions as applied to Hong Kong shall remain in force...”

Moreover, the enforcement of the Race Discrimination Ordinance in 2009 has set our city on an irreversible course towards a highly civilized and discrimination-free society. And nobody can turn back the clock regardless of their political ideologies.

I hope the people of Hong Kong stop buying into radical political propaganda and mounting discriminatory or reckless behavior against mainlanders or people from other ethnic groups.

Such behavior may not only invite lawsuits but also ruin our city's reputation as an international metropolis.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 20

Translation by Alan Lee 

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist