Equal Opportunities Commission


Press Releases

Press Releases

The EOC Makes Recommendations to the Government on Comprehensive Reforms to the Anti-Discrimination Legislation


Today (29 March 2016), the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) released its recommendations to the Government of the Hong Kong SAR on proposed reforms to the existing four anti-discrimination ordinances. This submission is the culmination of the Commission’s Discrimination Law Review (DLR), including a four-month public consultation that concluded on 31 October 2014, which sought to simplify, harmonise and modernise the anti-discrimination legislation.

In the submission to the Government (“the Submission”), the EOC details its 73 recommendations covering proposed reforms on a wide range of issues relating to eliminating discrimination and promoting equality. The Submission lays out the Commission’s prioritisation and position on the issues, as well as factors considered in its reasoning. To accompany the Submission, the EOC also released a report on responses to the public consultation (“the Report on Responses”), which provides factual summaries of the 125,041 responses (288 from organisations and 124,753 from individuals) received by the EOC during the public consultation.

“The EOC has a statutory duty to review the anti-discrimination legislation and ensure equal protection of all. This is why we have undertaken this comprehensive review. Not only is it the most far-reaching review of the anti-discrimination legislation in the two decades since the Commission’s establishment in 1996, but it also received the largest-ever number of public responses in any single consultation exercise of the EOC. Such overwhelming response demonstrated the greater awareness and demand from the public on ensuring their right to non-discrimination,” said Dr. York CHOW, the EOC Chairperson. “The Commission undertook careful and thorough analysis of the massive number of public responses to the consultation which represented divergent perspectives. The review also took into account a number of other factors, including our own operational experience, evidence of discrimination which cannot currently be addressed, and relevant legal and policy developments locally and internationally.”

Dr. Chow added, “Certainly, the Submission is not just about the EOC’s own opinion, but represents the aspiration and collective vision for change, which was shared with us from the Hong Kong community in the review process, towards the ultimate goal of being a truly inclusive society. Throughout the review, what has become clear is that there are multiple groups in society, including women, persons with disabilities, and ethnic minorities, who still cannot participate equally in everyday life and opportunities in this city. This is why it is time for Hong Kong to take our anti-discrimination Ordinances to the next level.”

“Over the last 20 years, there have been broad changes – demographically, socially, politically, legally and economically – in Hong Kong society and around the world, which give rise to the need to improve everyone’s protection from discrimination,” said Dr. Chow. “In a number of respects, the EOC feels that the current provisions do not adequately protect against discrimination, and should be strengthened. The EOC also recognises that proactive measures to address systemic inequalities are necessary if Hong Kong is to demonstrate its commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion. We therefore believe that the proposed changes would be vital steps forward for the Hong Kong community in mapping out its equality landscape for the future.”

The EOC made a total of 73 recommendations in the Submission based on all the issues raised in the consultation document. Adopting a pragmatic and strategic approach, the EOC has created a list of higher priority issues for action, in recognition that sweeping changes to the legislation within a short period of time may not be feasible. In determining the prioritisation of issues, the EOC took into account a number of key factors, including EOC operational experience of considering complaints of discrimination, and research on issues of discrimination; the evidence and seriousness of discrimination; the number of people affected; the extent of current protection; local and international human rights obligations; and the evidence and reasoning of organisations or individuals responding to the consultation.

In total, 27 issues were identified by the Commission as higher priority areas for legislative or related reforms, which, the EOC believes, present more pressing and serious concerns. Of these, 22 are proposed amendments which, the EOC believes, are relatively more straightforward for the Government to make by introducing new provisions or amending the existing legislation. Broadly, their objectives include:

  • More comprehensive and stronger anti-discrimination protection, with the aim of addressing discrimination faced by various vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, women, and ethnic minorities. Some examples include introducing express protection from discrimination for people with disabilities who are accompanied by assistance animals and women who are breastfeeding; and expanding the protection against racial discrimination by association beyond close relatives to also cover friends, colleagues, and other associates;
  • Encouraging institutional changes and addressing systemic inequality, such as introducing a duty to provide reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities across multiple domains; and the right of women to return to a work position after maternity leave;
  • Facilitating more effective application of the anti-discrimination ordinances, including making the definitions and protection against direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment clearer and more consistent across various protected characteristics; and
  • Closing gaps in the existing protection against discrimination, such as providing protection from racial discrimination in relation to the exercise of Government functions and powers, in line with the provisions related to other protected characteristics; and providing express protection from discrimination in voting and standing for elections for persons with disabilities.

There are other higher priority issues which, the EOC believes, will likely have impact across multiple domains and policy areas, in addition to requiring more public discussions across stakeholder groups with differing views. On these recommendations, the EOC believes there should be legislative reforms, but proposes that the Government first conduct further research or consultation. This would be appropriate in order to determine the content and scope of the provisions, where necessary what exceptions should apply, and to take into account the evidence of relevant stakeholders. These issues are:

  • Introducing a proactive duty on the Government and public authorities to promote equality and eliminate discrimination in their work, which applies to all the protected characteristics;
  • Protection from discrimination on the grounds of nationality, citizenship, and residency status; and
  • Protection against marital and family status discrimination, and possible legal recognition, for persons in cohabiting relationships.

The EOC notes that the latter two of these issues were the main focus of public attention during the consultation in individual responses and some types of organisations. However, the EOC stresses that the number of responses which agreed or did not agree with a particular issue is not necessarily determinative. Critical factors in analysing the responses to the consultation were what evidence and reasoning if any were provided. “In particular, it appears some of the concerns raised, especially in relation to the issue of residency status protection and cohabitation relationships, may have resulted from an inaccurate interpretation of the intention of the EOC’s proposals from the consultation document, or of their potential legal impact. In any case, the EOC believes that majority views should be balanced against the protection of the rights of minority groups, whose voices and perspectives may be marginalised even on issues that directly impact them,” emphasised Dr. Chow.

“The EOC is grateful for the immense public attention given to this review. There were a wide variety of views expressed from diverse groups of stakeholders, sometimes with divergent standpoints. The EOC understands that the views represented expressions of the public’s care for the future of Hong Kong. Indeed, one of the EOC’s objectives in launching the DLR was to stimulate wider discussion in society and greater awareness on the issues surrounding equality. We believe this goal was achieved,” said Dr. Chow.

The EOC also notes that in the public consultation, a number of responses called for the introduction of new protected characteristics, including age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. As the DLR was focused on reviewing the existing anti-discrimination ordinances, the EOC has sought to explore some of these new characteristics for protection in separate recently published research studies.

The DLR Submission and Report on Responses have been endorsed by the EOC Members. The EOC has already met with the Government and will arrange further briefing sessions for stakeholders. “This Submission marks only the beginning of the next phase in achieving greater equality for all in Hong Kong. Much still remains to be done,” noted Dr. Chow. “The EOC, therefore, calls on the Government to give serious and due consideration to the recommendations put forth by the Commission, particularly those we have identified as higher priority areas, and implement the legislative reforms or conduct further consultation as soon as possible. Given the greater expectation of the public and continuing changes in society, the Government has a responsibility to take prompt action to address existing inequalities.”

“The Commission looks forward to continuing the discussion and engagement with our stakeholders as we work towards our shared goal of ensuring equal opportunities for all in Hong Kong. Indeed, such dialogue is necessary to enable diverse views to be taken into account. The EOC will continue to monitor the outcomes of the Discrimination Law Review and how we can further improve the anti-discrimination legislation in Hong Kong,” concluded Dr. Chow.


To download the Submission and the Report on Responses, please visit the EOC website: www.eoc.org.hk.

For media enquiries, please contact Mr. Sam HO (Tel: 2106-2187).

Equal Opportunities Commission
29 March 2016