Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

Race Discrimination in HK

The Government is going to publish a code of practice against race discrimination in employment areas. The code, however, is a document with no legal force which binds not even the Government. To demonstrate its sincerity, the Government should at the very least empower the Equal Opportunities Commission to enforce the code against the Government.

Human Rights Monitor believes that the problem of race discrimination in HK is not given serious consideration, primarily because of the small size of the minority communities. Whereas the colonial system was based on discrimination, the HKSAR should be able to consider the issue of race discrimination more objectively and introduce legislative and educational systems to ensure that prejudice on the basis of colour, creed or culture is eliminated.

The need for legislation

Ethnic minorities, particularly those of darker skin complexion or those from poorer countries, face discrimination on a daily basis. The need for legislation is based on real life examples of discrimination in the private sector. Kiran Nihalani's case was reported in the November issue. This article describes some of the types of discrimination which occur. The use of the word native English speaker in employment advertisements is often a cover for seeking white staff. Although many Indians in HK are highly educated, career development opportunities are hindered due to unofficial rules that exclude minorities from selected opportunities.

Many cases come to the knowledge of the Monitor showing that particular ethnic groups have been singled out for exclusion from employment or entertainment venues simply because of skin colour. The problem persists in HK today and is getting worse.

Outlawing race discrimination will provide minorities with a fall back should they continue to face unfair treatment in the private sector.

The need for education

The need for education is based on real life examples of discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in their daily lives:

a. The Indian community is actively involved in commerce and consistently faces difficulties in employing local staff due to discrimination against Indian employers. Locals prefer not to work for Indians. The reason is purely out of ignorance.
b. Members of ethnic minority communities regularly face difficulties in hiring taxis or having buses stop for them as drivers simply ignore their call for service. On a regular basis members of minorities will try and wave down a taxi, only to be ignored and have the driver serve a local customer ahead of them.
c. Often locals chose not to sit next to minorities on public transportation systems.
d. Discriminatory pricing in hotels and shops, such as the recent case of Japanese being overcharged with a special 'Japanese rate'.
e. The media perception of Indian minorities is very much based on locations such as Chung King Mansions, this results in branding of the minorities into a certain group. Little or no emphasis is put on the fact that Indians have contributed greatly to HK, e.g., the setting up of the University of Hong Kong and the Star Ferry. Many Indians in HK can speak some Cantonese and are more exposed to hostile comments than members of other groups.
f. The perception of Filipino is highly negative. Education should emphasize the importance of this community to the economy.

The Hong Kong Government should initiate education programs at school to expose local children to different ethnic groups and their cultures. Hong Kong Chinese have travelled and migrated to many countries in the world and have faced discrimination in many societies. Even in colonial Hong Kong, locals were discriminated against.

We believe that many in Hong Kong can relate to the ignorant discrimination faced by minorities in Hong Kong.

Discrimination often exists out of ignorance and the best way to resolve issues of ignorance is through education. If local children were exposed to the culture and traditions of minority groups, as happens in Singapore, the racial stereotypes that exist in Hong Kong today will eventually be lessened and hopefully removed.


If Hong Kong wishes to be seen as a first world society that cares for its residents, that caring should extend to minority groups as well. Although the minority community is small, Indians in particular have been in Hong Kong for generations and have contributed greatly to the city's success.

If the Government feels private sector discrimination does not exist, which is incorrect, the introduction of race discrimination legislation will not present any problems, but will ensure Hong Kong is seen as a progress and caring community.

If the Government agrees that discrimination is evident in Hong Kong, there is a pressing need to ensure such discrimination is outlawed.

The passing of race discrimination legislation only outlaws the practice of discriminating on grounds of race. The Government must also take the lead and educate the majority community to ensure that Hong Kong as a society welcomes minority groups, understands their culture and appreciates the contributions minorities have made to Hong Kong.

Ravi Gidumal

1998 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor