Occupy Central is costing business even before it's begun
Bernard Chan says companies are making plans to cope during protest
Some pro-establishment commentators have warned us that Occupy Central could cost Hong Kong billions of dollars in economic losses as well as in terms of the city's global reputation. I am not sure about these numbers.
I doubt the pro-democracy protest would cause such huge harm (unless it went on for months). But bringing the business district to a halt could easily impose financial costs on companies in the area. In fact, merely the possibility of such action is already doing so.
All well-run businesses have contingency plans in case of disruption. Just as hospitals have emergency generators, so many companies need back-up computer systems and other facilities in case of problems.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority strictly requires banks to have detailed business continuity arrangements. Occupy Central is already forcing prudent companies in many sectors to take additional precautions.
At my company, in the heart of Central, the attitude is that, at the very least, there could be uncertainty about whether staff should come to work (similar to when a typhoon is coming).
Yet the uncertainty goes further. Will crowds block streets and pavements, and entrances to the MTR and buildings? Will crowds be in one area, or spread along major roads? There is no way of knowing, so we must assume the worst.
We have to face the possible risk that we will be barred from our business premises; we cannot simply ignore that. So, like many companies in Central, we have put together a business continuity plan. This has taken up management time. The plan involves being able to send staff, at short notice, to alternative premises. It means arranging alternative accommodation.
The good news for us is that we do have another office elsewhere, and can fit quite a few staff in there; some can work from home for a limited time if necessary. So we are preparing seating arrangements, computer links, directories of alternative phone numbers and other plans. We must consider and prepare for all sorts of possibilities in advance - even how to feed staff if they are trapped in our offices.
All this involves a lot of extra work. For our few dozen staff in the heart of Central, this is inconvenient. For larger operations, such as major banks, relocating hundreds, or even thousands of staff would be a nightmare. For many bigger companies, taking precautions will involve a considerable amount of extra effort.
I am not saying this to attack the Occupy Central movement. Civil disobedience played a big role in the struggles against slavery and racism, and in support of women's rights. I am not sure constitutional reform in Hong Kong is as big an issue, but I recognise our political system badly needs change and people feel strongly about what changes to make, and what the limits are.
My hunch is that moderate pro-democracy activists will probably want to keep things peaceful and avoid serious disturbance to others. But the Occupy Central movement is divided: some factions are showing signs of wanting radical action. We can't be sure, for example, that some radicals will not block MTR exits, or come into conflict with commuters.
One week ago, the Legislative Council was occupied by people protesting against New Territories development. Reports say only 30 radicals coordinated the action; it took 60 police to clear the place and there were some minor injuries.
We have no idea what Occupy Central will be like. But companies have no choice but to take precautions.
My point - without being alarmist or trying to exaggerate the situation - is simply that such action will definitely cost businesses money. It is already using up management resources at my company, and we are only one of hundreds in and around Central that have to examine the risks now and make contingency plans accordingly.
Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council