Equal Opportunities Commission



SCMP/IHRM Human Capital in Greater China Conference: The Art of Gathering Talent - A Roadmap to Success

“Equal Opportunities in Today's Global Economy” — Mr. Raymond Tang, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


Ladies and gentlemen,

It's my pleasure to be here today, to present the "People Management Awards" and to congratulate the deserving winners. Every business or organization relies on its people to deliver, to make it a success, so employers know that finding the right talent is the first step in drawing up the roadmap to success.

Creating a level playing field is central to the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Our goal is to ensure individuals enjoy equal opportunities, or equal access to opportunities, such as in the field of employment, education or in the delivery of goods and services. In our effort to create a level playing field, you may ask what are the benchmarks that measure equal access? In Hong Kong, we have three anti-discrimination ordinances, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability, family status, pregnancy and marital status. In the context of good employment practices, these are irrelevant factors whenever you hire or promote staff. Any effective manager knows that an individual's contribution is measured according to his or her ability, not disability. When your staff knows that the bottom line is performance, they will be motivated to deliver their best.

It is the employer's and manager's responsibility to do all that they reasonably can to make sure everyone in the workplace is treated fairly, and that discrimination, harassment, vilification and victimization don't happen. As a manager, you are required to provide reasonable accommodation to enable a person with a disability to do a job, unless that would cause unjustifiable hardship. And, there is now well established jurisprudence governing these concepts - "reasonable accommodation" and "unjustifiable hardship".

As any lawyer will tell you, vicarious liability is a serious matter for any employer, especially those with a large number of employees. Employers are legally liable for the actions of their employees in a discrimination complaint, unless they can successfully raise the defense that reasonably practicable steps have been taken to prevent unlawful behaviour from happening. What are some of these steps? They include having a grievance procedure in place, and providing staff with regular training and information on equal opportunity.

To facilitate employers and employees to implement equal opportunities in the workplace, we undertook a new initiative last year by launching the EO Club. So far, a network of about 100 organizations, including major corporations, SMEs and government departments, have joined the Equal Opportunities Club, to find out more about compliance tools, training modules and the latest best practices around the world.

In today's global economy, equal opportunity has become an essential part of business. Getting the right person for the right job means increasing productivity and competitiveness. It will help you increase your market share and enhances your brand name value. The new United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon recently said, "Business practices rooted in universal values can bring social and economic gains," and one of those values is the elimination of discrimination.

It is acknowledged that although globalization opens up more markets and opportunities, at the same time the process also leaves countries and communities vulnerable to external influence. The UN launched the Global Compact in 2000, a corporate citizenship initiative to engage businesses to adopt social responsibility as a core value, so that economic prosperity is aligned with enhancing local culture and the interests of the people, people which provided the foundation to that economic prosperity. The Global Compact asked companies to embrace, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values, which includes human rights and the elimination of discrimination.

The journey has begun, as thousands of businesses, including the Fortune 500 Group, have embraced this international voluntary initiative. And how does it impact on those on the ground? I am sure many of you here today are aware of corporate social responsibility (CSR), as a growing number of companies have now incorporated this in their business practices, because expectations of consumers have changed [1] . Social audits of companies are now undertaken to meet the demands of shareholders. Social accountability, ethical investment and sustainable development are now topics for serious discussion not only in boardrooms, but also in global regulatory bodies and international trade negotiations.

The way we look at disabilities has also changed. The General Assembly of the UN adopted the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 13 December last year. Henceforth, the international community no longer approaches disabilities as issues of charity or welfare. The traditional approach will be replaced by the rights-based approach, recognizing the intrinsic right of the disabled person to be treated fairly and without discrimination. Another building block towards achieving social harmony is now in place. The Convention will be open for signature by all nations from March 30 this year. Hopefully, our sovereign nation, China, will be amongst the first to sign and ratify this important and long overdue international covenant, given our nation's active participation in the process leading to adoption.

For those of us working in the Greater China region, we fully understand the long-term benefits of managing social risks. Invest in equal opportunities, and you will have taken the first step in minimizing future risks for your company.

I am sure we all agree that the success of our businesses very much depends on whether we succeed in gaining the loyalty and commitment of the people we employ, and, that in turn, is determined by the way we treat our employees. In a strange sort of way, it bears some resemblance to the way we should look at climatic change. As we enjoy the fruits of our economic successes and technological innovations, we may need to spare a thought on the state of the planet that we all share (not forgetting that environmental protection is also a core value in the Global Compact initiative.)

There is a saying or idiom in Cantonese (which should be familiar to many in the audience) -- 發財立品. Simply translated, it means - "After you have made your fortune, it's time to establish your moral character". I venture to suggest that the saying applies to both the individual and a community. Hong Kong is an affluent society, and our moral character will be determined by the quality of our community and the recognition and respect that we accord to diversity amongst our citizens.

Thank you.



[1] As recent as last week, a major bank in Hong Kong reportedly had decided to offer paternity leave to its staff, something quite unthinkable a year ago.