Victor Lo Chun-wing should not be selected as a forthcoming Executive Council member - Joint statement

Members of the Hong Kong Government should be of the highest integrity
Victor Lo Chun-wing should not be selected as a forthcoming Executive Council member

Donald Tsang has recently been reappointed as the new Chief Executive and will soon appoint his new governance team, which includes appointing the next Executive Council.

We are concerned about the possibility that Mr. Victor Lo Chun-wing will be appointed one of the Executive Council members for the next term. We believe, like most Hong Kong citizens, that as an Executive Council member, one should be of the highest professional and personal integrity, be respectful of law, human rights and labour rights, be law-abiding and conduct business dealings with high levels of transparency and ethical standards. A person who comes from the business sector should set a good example by leading his or her company to set high standards of corporate social responsibility and transparency.

However, as a current Executive Council member in the Hong Kong government, Mr. Victor Lo Chun-wing does not appear to fulfill these basic conditions.

Gold Peak Industries (Holdings) Hong Kong [hereafter GP] is chaired by Mr. Victor Lo Chun-wing, who owns the GP batteries in China. Starting from the end of 2003, as a result of GPs long-term negligence in production safety, many workers were found to have been poisoned through their work at GP:
—11 workers from three mainland GP plants and three workers from GP plants in Hong Kong have been affected by cadmium poisoning.
— 400 workers from the mainland and 21 workers from Hong Kong have been found to have excessive cadmium levels and are under observation.[1]

Cadmium is a hazardous heavy metal used by GP as an electrode material for nickel-cadmium batteries. It is harmful to humans and is a known carcinogen. People poisoned by cadmium can show a variety of symptoms including dizziness, vomiting, muscle pain and deformity of skeletal structures. Victims can go on to die because of eventual cancer and kidney failure.

The case is still ongoing and GP has so far refused to meet the workers’ demands on fair compensation. GP is currently the subject of an international campaign headed by the International trade Union Confederation and other groups and has been the subject of several court cases both in the mainland and in Hong Kong and is also pursuing a libel case against several Hong Kong groups involved in supporting the poisoned workers.

Mr. Victor Lo Chun-wing was appointed by Donald Tsang as an Executive Council member in 2005. He had been the vice-chair and chair of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, the president of the board of directors of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and the president of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation in addition to his business role as Chair of Gold peak Holdings Hong Kong. Currently apparently earning around 9.35 million HKD in remuneration from Gold Peak Mr. Lo has an inescapable responsibility for the large number of workers who have been affected by cadmium poisoning.

According to mainland laws—Safe Production Law and Law on Prevention and Treatment of Occupational Diseases—GP must tell workers how to use hazardous chemicals and provide adequate protection to workers and ensure workplaces meet safety and hygiene standards. These laws appear to have been grossly violated by the three GP factories in China. This was the main cause of the poisoning and led to GP factories being fined 160,000 Yuan by the local government and being ordered to stop producing nickel-cadmium batteries. [2]

The incident was exposed more than two years ago. Although there has been major media attention, worker organized protests and attempts by GP workers to resolve the situation through negotiation; GP continues to show a surprising lack of responsibility and sense of justice:

1. Those placed under observation have not received any compensation except a small sum in the form of a “subsidy” ranging from 3,000 to 8,000 Yuan per person paid by GP in September 2004. However, the affected workers have different kinds of health problems and many have not been able to get a new job from other factories because of their excessive cadmium levels. Workers ask for fair compensation but until today GP refuses to provide this.

2. It is GP’s responsibility to arrange annual medical check-up for workers in a qualified hospital. However, all the check-ups before 2007 were arranged in a guest house. Workers (mainly females) were asked to remove all clothing and take a shower before giving a urine sample whilst under surveillance from unidentified persons. Whatever the motive behind the arrangement, the result was to scare many workers from returning for body checks.  It is GP’s responsibility as the employing company and organizer of the medical check ups to ensure that proper conditions are arranged for the check ups and that they do not cause affront to the workers.

3. Although GP has claimed that their factories in the mainland have already stopped manufacturing nickel-cadmium batteries, in fact GP appears to have outsourced production to other factories. These factories are reportedly not informing workers that the cadmium they work with is a hazardous chemical and there is little or no protection provided, thus increasing the probability that the risks to these workers will in fact be more serious than before. GP as a top brand company in Hong Kong should not shirk its responsibility.

4. GP has continuously tried to suppress those workers who have organized petitions and called for proper compensation. In September 2004, GP management issued a joint statement with the local government warning workers that it is forbidden to organise appeals over the heads of the immediate authorities without prior authorization; “Those refusing to mend their ways despite repeated disciplinary actions will be punished by public security organs in accordance to the relevant public order regulations.”[3]  These scarcely veiled threats reveal company-government collusion and violate basic human rights.

The GP cadmium poisoning case is not a single incident, but a sad reflection of how TNCs put profit before workers. The incident has also exposed the corruption and collusion between officials and the business sector in mainland China. Under these circumstances, existing Chinese legislation which protects workers’ rights cannot be adequately implemented.

The way Mr. Victor Lo and his company have treated their workers shows that GP is severely lacking in minimal corporate social responsibility. Despite these concerns, he was still appointed to be an Executive Council Member in 2005 and we hope this will not happen again.

We are urging the Chief Executive Donald Tsang to stop appointing a person such as Mr. Victor Lo to be in the Executive Council member or any other post in the government until this case has been resolved. In addition we urge Mr. Victor Lo and his company to listen to the proper demands of the workers and fulfill the basic requirements of corporate social responsibility to workers in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Donald Tsang must keep Victor Lo Chun-wing out of the Executive Council for the next term!

Related article(s)