The city's four biggest accounting firms have joined in a statement condemning Occupy Central for its planned civil disobedience action.
The so-called Big Four - Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers Hong Kong - said they opposed the pro-democracy movement for its potential "adverse and far-reaching impact" on the local legal system, social order and economic development.
The accounting firms claimed that multinational corporations and investors might move their regional headquarters out of the city or even withdraw their business because of the instability created.
"The Central district has been the heart of the city's commercial activities," they said in the joint statement. "We believe that once the Occupy Central movement takes place, commercial institutions such as banks, the stock exchange and the stock market will inevitably be affected, causing delays to transactions and business activities, which will in turn give rise to market instability and chaos, resulting in [severe] economic and social damage that can hardly be quantified."
If firms relocated or withdrew, "that would weaken the competitiveness of Hong Kong even further and would create a more difficult environment for our next generation", they said.
The statement was published in Chinese-language newspapers Ming Pao, the Hong Kong Economic Times and the Hong Kong Economic Journal yesterday, as participation in Occupy's unofficial referendum on electoral reform - which began on June 20 - passed 750,000.
Accountancy-sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung voiced concern over the advertisement. "I'm worried that accountants and employees of the four firms will feel pressured and be prevented from expressing their political views freely," he said.
Ernst & Young, in an internal circular seen by the South China Morning Post, told its staff not to answer any media inquiries about Occupy Central but refer them to the firm's media section.
Upon inquiries from the Post, the firm said: "[We] would like to clarify one point - we did not 'warn' our people. It is normal practice to ask our people to refer all media inquiries to the media relations team." It refused to comment on the joint statement.
On Wednesday, the Hong Kong Economic Times refused to run a statement issued by Occupy organisers, saying the paper would not publish an ad that might involve illegal activities.