Firms shine light on social impact

Schemes for offenders and ethnic minority students raise skills and provide opportunities

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 4:14am

University lecturer Stephen Wong Yuen-shan says the Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman missed the point in his doctrine that the only social responsibility of business was to increase profits.

"No company has a zero social impact," said Wong, a banker-turned-lecturer at Chinese University. The social impact of business was "quantifiable and measurable", he said.

Wong was speaking outside a forum yesterday on the role of business in alleviating poverty. The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, which helped organise the forum, said there was a rising risk of poverty in Hong Kong, with 1.19 million people at risk in the first half of last year, up from 1.15 million a year earlier.

Benny Lo, a director of Full Charter, a lighting design and manufacturing company that offers part-time jobs for more than 700 ex-offenders a year, said getting people back on the working ladder and giving them regular income helped them understand that they have a place in society.

Ex-offenders make up around 20 per cent of the company's workforce. They are paid an hourly rate of HK$40 to HK$45.

"We are a platform for these individuals to seek better working opportunities, and we encourage them to leave our company once they feel prepared," Lo said.

Natalie Chan, senior manager for corporate responsibility and sustainability at The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, said the company collaborated with the Delia Memorial School (Broadway) to provide a short training programme and a six-week internship for ethnic minority students.

The hotel group implemented the programme 18 months ago, with nine students selected to hone their hospitality skills in group operations including the Peninsula Hong Kong and the Peak Tower.

Chan said the company has not consolidated all the costs related to the programme yet, but all students earned the minimum wage during the internship.

"Time is our most valuable asset, and when these students invest their youth at our programme, we have the responsibility to educate our employees on the importance of the internship," Chan said.

In January, after years of pleading from advocacy groups, the Hong Kong government said it would officially declare a poverty line for the city. Research by the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre suggests the official poverty line is likely to be set at around HK$3,600 a month.