Bridging social divide needs the courage HSBC lions symbolise

Reforms to protect sexual minorities must be approached with care and through inclusive consultation and negotiation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2016, 1:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2016, 1:25am

Hong Kong is renowned for adapting to change in the market place but not so readily to pressure for change in conservative social values. That can be a catalyst for conflict. The latest is a textbook example, pitting the city’s biggest bank against local family activists. It involves, of all things, the HSBC’s iconic lion statues outside its Central HQ.

The activists have accused the bank of trampling on family values by decking replicas of the statues in the rainbow colours of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement. This is to show support for sexual minorities in a campaign called “celebrate pride, celebrate unity”. Four activist groups have launched an online signature campaign against the “disgusting” display, claiming it offends shareholders and customers.

This claim goes to the heart of the conflict. Conversely, an HSBC spokeswoman said the bank’s commitment to diversity and inclusion had helped it attract and retain staff for a workforce that “reflects the diversity of our millions of customers”.

HSBC’s pro-LGBT rainbow lions draw ire of Hong Kong family groups

HSBC has hard-headed reasons for furthering awareness and combating discrimination in the workplace, such as attracting the talent it needs. Otherwise, the talent will easily find a welcome elsewhere. If customers and shareholders don’t like it, they can shift their allegiances to other institutions. We do not think the bank need lose too much sleep over that.

Activists said reforms to protect sexual minorities would discriminate against values that most people hold dear. Community values can be fluid. For example, a survey by the Equal Opportunities Commission earlier this year found that 55 per cent of respondents favoured such a law, though the result reflected 91 per cent support in the 18-24 age group. Despite evidence of growing acceptance there remains a deep social divide that the government and the EOC must approach with care, through inclusive consultation and negotiation, without undue delay, and with the courage the HSBC lions have long symbolised.