Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's equalities watchdog for first time tackles banks' treatment of ethnic minorities

As Pakistani customer claims discrimination, bank staff will be given talk on equality legislation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 May, 2015, 8:21am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 September, 2015, 11:14am

For the first time, the equalities watchdog will tackle the issue of banks' treatment of customers from ethnic minorities by training frontline staff on local anti-discrimination laws.

The move follows a growing number of cases in which people from ethnic minorities, many of whom were born and raised in Hong Kong, have faced obstacles in opening bank accounts.

The latest case involves Pakistani businessman Phillip Khan, 52, also known as Abdull Ghafar, and Standard Chartered.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Khan - who has had a personal account with the bank for 40 years - said he felt discriminated against based on his nationality as he had a Pakistani passport.

The situation arose when he sought to reopen one of his frozen corporate accounts.

Staff asked for a number of identity documents but he was told his Pakistani passport would be problematic. He was also asked to declare he had no criminal record and was not affiliated with any political party.

"I complained because I found that it was discriminating. I still need an explanation why I was treated differently," Khan said yesterday after a meeting with the Equal Opportunities Commission to seek a review of his case.

A Standard Chartered spokeswoman said: "Due to client confidentiality, we are unable to comment on [the customer's] account status further. But ... the issue he has with his HKD account has nothing to do with his ethnicity nor nationality."

A commission spokesman said it would hold a seminar for banking staff in July to help them understand discrimination laws.

Co-organised with the Hong Kong Association of Banks and Hong Kong Institute of Bankers, the presentation will also aim to raise bankers' "sensitivity to the culture and identity of customers from minority groups, including ethnic minorities".

Current race discrimination legislation covers race, colour, descent or ethnic origin but not nationality, citizenship, Hong Kong residency or related status.

Khan's complaint is one of about 80 similar cases that advocacy group Hong Kong Unison has received since 2011.

"There is no consistent approach by banks for ethnic minorities," said Unison executive director Phyllis Cheung .

Her group is lobbying the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to review its guidelines for banks. It also wants nationality added to the discrimination laws.

A spokeswoman for the HKMA said more stringent requirements globally had made it harder for customers of all nationalities to open bank accounts.

“Generally speaking, the HKMA does not accept banks, using any supervisory guidelines as an excuse, to treat customers unreasonably on the basis of race or nationality,” she said.

In the past four years, banks in Hong Kong have opened more than 130,000 accounts for customers from ethnic minorities, the spokeswoman said.