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Press Release : The EOC Hong Kong

2016-09-23

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Sep 21, 2016

The EOC Announces Findings of the Study on Discrimination against Ethnic Minorities in the Provision of Goods, Services and Facilities, and Disposal and Management of Premises

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has released today (21 September 2016) the findings of the “Study on Discrimination against Ethnic Minorities in the Provision of Goods, Services and Facilities, and Disposal and Management of Premises”. The findings show that it is common for ethnic minorities (EMs) to encounter discrimination when they are obtaining goods and services, especially when they are looking for accommodation and using financial services. The study also found that many providers of goods and services hold stereotypical and biased views of EMs, with cultural differences and language barrier cited as some possible causes of discrimination. 

The study was conducted from April to July 2015 with the aim of evaluating the types and degrees of discrimination against EMs in Hong Kong related to the provision of goods, services and facilities, and disposal and management of premises. The research team collected data from three sources, namely one-to-one in-depth interviews with EMs who had experienced discrimination, audit checks by mystery customers, and focus group discussions with providers of goods and services. 

During the in-depth interviews, the interviewees were asked to relate their experiences of discrimination in various service areas, including property search, finance, transportation, catering and retail. The more common forms of discrimination include refusal to lease properties and open bank and credit card accounts for EMs. Some interviewees mentioned that property agents were on the side of the landlords when the latter refused to lease their properties to EMs. Some recounted being asked to leave the property agencies, while others said they had been rejected by banks when trying to open bank accounts, even though they held a Hong Kong identity card and provided all the required documents. Other discriminatory experiences included being denied by salespersons when asking to try on clothes, and requested to have their bags searched when leaving shops. 

To conduct the audit checks, EM, Caucasian and Chinese checkers were instructed to act as mystery customers for comparison of service levels. The exercise reconfirmed that EMs tend to get a lower level of service than Chinese and Caucasian customers. While EM checkers reported to be discriminated in nearly half (44%) of their checks, the respective figure of Caucasian checkers was 24%. Chinese checkers did not encounter any discrimination during their checks. By service sector, in obtaining financial services, EM checkers claimed that they encountered a large extent of discrimination in one-third of the related visits (33%), followed by retail, restaurant and employment services (17% each). 

The EOC Chairperson, Professor Alfred CHAN Cheung-ming, said at the press conference, “Although most EM respondents expressed that racial discrimination in Hong Kong had improved from the situation decades ago, the study revealed that discrimination is still quite common in the provision of goods, services and facilities, and disposal and management of premises. The discrimination EMs encounter, particularly in seeking property and getting financial services, not only affects their daily life, but is also humiliating. Such discrimination should have no place in Hong Kong, an international city that takes pride in its diversity and openness. It is necessary for the Government to make promoting racial equality and inclusion a priority. Long-term education is also required to change the attitude of local Chinese people.” 

In the focus group discussions, all the participants claimed that they held no discriminatory attitude towards EMs and that they delivered the same level of customer service regardless of the nationality and race of their customers. Nevertheless, property agents conceded that some Chinese property owners do not want to lease their properties to EMs as they worry that EMs would delay rental payment, disturb neighbours (such as by cooking food of strong odour) and make the properties messy and odorous due to their cooking habits. 

Professor CHAN remarked, “The study found that most EMs do not make any complaints when they face discrimination because they do not want to be labelled ‘trouble-makers’. Many of them are not even aware of the channels for filing complaints. In view of this, the EOC will step up our publicity and promotional efforts to inform EMs about their rights and the actions they can take when facing discrimination. Many of the EMs who have experienced discrimination are in fact Hong Kong residents and identify themselves as Hong Kong people. They deserve equal treatment as other locals.” 

Providers of goods and services in the focus groups suggested that incidents of conflict and misunderstanding are mainly caused by cultural differences. They suggested that the Government enhance public understanding of what constitutes racial discrimination and that EMs attend courses for new immigrants to learn about the local culture and lifestyle. Meanwhile, the interviewed EMs suggested stakeholders organise more mixed-race community activities to promote racial harmony and multiculturalism. 

At the press conference, Dr Ferrick CHU Chung-man, Director of Policy, Research and Training of the EOC, said, “The study found that disputes and misunderstanding between EMs and providers of goods and services are sometimes caused by language barriers. The Government may consider lining up NGOs and other organisations to provide more vocational training for frontline staff in the service sectors in handling EM customers. In addition, many EMs expressed the wish for the provision of more Chinese language programmes for them to facilitate their daily interaction with local Chinese people.” 

To promote understanding of the Race Discrimination Ordinance and increase sensitivity of frontline service staff, especially those in the banking and property sectors, the EOC’s Ethnic Minorities Unit collaborated with the Hong Kong Association of Banks and the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers to organise training workshops for banking staff. A list of suggested practices devised by the EOC has also been distributed to all banks in Hong Kong. As for property agents, the Unit has been working with the Estate Agents Authority to provide them with training.

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