EOC Responds to Media Enquiries about a Restaurant’s Social Media Post
In response to media enquiries about a social media post published by a restaurant stating that it received a call from an officer of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) on 14 February 2020, during which the restaurant was asked to remove a notice about a discriminatory practice against certain customers, or else it would face prosecution, the EOC released the following statement today (16 February 2020), as the post has raised doubts, directly or indirectly, over the Commission’s handling of the matter:
1. The EOC received a complaint alleging that the restaurant had put up a notice that was discriminatory against certain customers. The EOC handled the complaint according to established procedures and decided to call the restaurant and advise it to remove the notice. The tele-conversation cited in the social media post was therefore conducted in line with the EOC’s established complaint-handling procedure. During the call, the officer did not make any sort of warning nor mention suing the restaurant. Any allegations of the otherwise or doubts about the EOC’s handling of the matter are misguided.
2. Under the anti-discrimination ordinances, the EOC has the statutory power to investigate relevant complaints. This may entail communication with the parties involved, where the EOC seeks out additional information, explains relevant laws, and make recommendations to the individuals or organisations concerned, with a view to rectifying the situation or even rooting out the motives underlying discriminatory practices. In the case of the restaurant in question, the EOC was acting well within its jurisdiction and the officer was earnestly delivering the statutory function of the Commission.
3. The EOC wishes to reiterate that it is unlawful under the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) to discriminate against, harass or vilify a person on the ground of “race”, which may refer to the race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin of the person as defined by the ordinance. Although language per se is not included in the RDO’s definition of race, language-related requirements or conditions may result in indirect discrimination against a particular ethnic group if members of this group are unable to meet those requirements or conditions and suffer detrimental treatment as a result. For example, when kindergartens require all applicants to speak in Cantonese during admission interviews, it may amount to indirect racial discrimination against and detrimental treatment of ethnic minority children, many of whom do not speak Cantonese until they receive a formal education. Likewise, when providers of goods and services require all customers to speak a certain language, it may constitute detrimental treatment of ethnic groups who cannot meet the condition.
4. The EOC understands that the novel coronavirus outbreak is causing anxiety and sparking concerns and divergent views over containment measures. However, discriminatory language and behaviour only serve to fuel division and conflict, rather than bring the epidemic under control. In these critical times, the EOC once again calls on all sectors in society to practise reason and empathy, try to understand the needs of different communities, and stand in solidarity to overcome our shared challenges.
Equal Opportunities Commission
16 February 2020