Equal Opportunities Commission



The Race Discrimination Ordinance and I

Definition and Examples

The RDO is an anti-discrimination law enacted in July 2008 and effective since 10 July 2009 to protect people against discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of their race. Under the RDO, it is unlawful to discriminate, harass or vilify a person on the ground of his/her race. 

Ethnic minorities constitute about 8% of Hong Kong’s population. Unfamiliarity with other people’s customs, culture and language may give rise to prejudices and stereotypes against people of other racial groups. At times, these prejudices lead to discrimination, harassment and vilification.Hong Kong has an obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination. Hong Kong also has an obligation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race or other status.[1];The RDO makes it unlawful to engage in less favourable treatments based on race, racial harassment and vilification. With the RDO in place, people of different races can live and work as one community, which in turn will enrich Hong Kong’s culture and enhance its competitiveness in the international arena.

According to RDO, race in relation to a person means the race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin of the person. Racial group means a group of persons identified by reference to race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin. References to a person’s racial group refer to any racial group into which the person falls.[2]

Religion itself is not race. A group of people defined by reference to religion is not a racial group under the RDO. RDO does not apply to discrimination on the ground of religion. However, some requirements or conditions relating to religion may indirectly discriminate against certain racial groups, and when this is so the RDO may apply.[3]

In general terms, racial discrimination is about treating people less favorably on the basis of their race.

There are two forms of racial discrimination: direct and indirect.[4]

Direct discrimination
Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another under comparable circumstances because of his/her or his/her near relative’s race. It is also direct discrimination to segregate a person on the basis of his/her race. Example: A person of Pakistani origin who speaks fluent Cantonese and has adopted a Chinese name applies by telephone for the job of salesperson and is invited for an interview. But, because his appearance indicates that he is of Pakistani origin, when he turns up for the interview he is falsely told that someone else has already been hired and the interview is declined. This is less favourable treatment on the ground of race if another job seeker, not of Pakistani origin, was not declined. This is an unlawful act under the RDO.

Indirect discrimination
Indirect discrimination occurs when a same requirement (rule, policy, practice, criterion or procedure) or condition, which cannot be justified on non-racial grounds, is applied equally on people of different races but which has an unfair effect on a particular group because (i) only a small proportion of people from that racial group can meet that requirement compared to the proportion of people of other racial groups, and/or (ii) the condition is to the detriment of the persons of that particular group because they cannot meet it. Example: A blanket ban on beards for health and safety reasons in a food packaging factory is a requirement or condition that indirectly discriminates against ethnic groups such as Sikhs (who, by their custom, have to keep a beard), when compared to other racial groups, if information shows that the blanket ban is not justifiable, for example, because face masks could be used satisfactorily to meet health and safety standards.

Discrimination by way of victimisation
Racial discrimination also occurs by way of victimisation if a person treats another person less favourably than other people because that person or a third person has done an act protected under the RDO, such as making or planning to make a race discrimination complaint, taking legal action, acting as witness against race discrimination or helping somebody else to do so. Example: A manager of Nepalese origin is discriminated against by way of victimisation if he complains that he was paid less annual bonus than another manager of Chinese origin on the ground of race, and the company decides to dismiss him by reason that he makes this complaint.[5]

Racial discrimination and harassment by association and imputation

The RDO also protects a person from discrimination on the ground of the race of the person’s associate. An “associate” includes the person’s spouse, relative, carer, a person who is living with the person on a domestic basis, or who is in a business, sporting or recreational relationship with the person.

In addition, protection is extended in respect of discrimination on the ground of race by imputation. It is unlawful for a person who discriminates against or harasses another person on the basis of a mistaken perception of the race of that other person.

If a person engages in an unwelcome, abusive, insulting or offensive behaviour because of another person’s or his/her near relative’s race, which makes him feel threatened, humiliated or embarrassed then it is racial harassment. Racial harassment can be in any form—physical, visual, verbal or non-verbal—and even a single incident may constitute racial harassment. It also occurs if a person creates a racially hostile environment for another person because of his/her or his/her near relative’s race. Racial harassment is unlawful under the law. Example: Engaging in name calling, which people of certain racial groups may find offensive or impolite, or using a disparaging or offensive tone when communicating with people on the ground of their race could be racial harassment.[6]

The RDO renders racial harassment between workplace participants at a common workplace unlawful, even where there is no employment or employment-like relationship between them. A “workplace participant” covers persons working in the same workplace, including an employer, an employee, a contract worker, a principal, a commission agent, a partner, an intern and a volunteer.

In relation to the provision of goods, services and/or facilities, the RDO protects service providers from racial harassment by customers (and vice versa). This is so even if the harassment took place outside Hong Kong but on Hong Kong registered aircraft and ships. 

It refers to an intimidating work environment created by a racially prejudiced unwelcome conduct or behaviour towards a person that interferes with his/her work performance. The behaviour does not need to be directly or consciously targeted at the particular person. Example: Display of graffiti or slogans or other objects offensive to certain racial groups could constitute a racially hostile environment.[7]

It is an activity in public which incites hatred, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person because of his/her race. Any racist incitement involving threat of physical harm to persons or their property or premises is considered serious vilification and is liable for fine to a maximum of $100,000 and imprisonment for a maximum of two years.[8]


The RDO offers protection in several areas, including the following:[9]

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Provision of goods, facilities or services
  • Disposal or management of premises
  • Eligibility to vote for and to stand for election to public bodies, etc.
  • Offering of a pupilage or tenancy in a barrister’s chambers
  • Participation in clubs

Yes, the RDO applies to all employers in Hong Kong except where their employees work wholly or mainly outside Hong Kong. 

The RDO provides the following exceptions under which the decisions made because of, or having an impact on, race would not be unlawful.[10]

  • Genuine Occupational Qualification
  • Training for skills to be used outside Hong Kong
  • Employment of persons with special skills, knowledge or experience
  • Existing local and overseas employment terms
  • Cemetery, crematorium or columbarium
  • Special measures

Specific Examples

An employer cannot deny somebody a job interview or position just because of his/her race. The employer would have to prove that proficiency in reading Chinese language is a justifiable job requirement if he/she rejects a candidate on this ground. Otherwise, it could constitute discrimination.

It is unlawful for a service provider to refuse to provide goods, services or facilities on the ground of a person’s race. It is also unlawful for an educational establishment to deny admission to, or expel a student, because of his/her race.[11]

There is no requirement under the law to translate information materials into ethnic minority languages. However, in the interest of promoting racial harmony, service providers and employers should put in place an effective method of communication and apply equal treatment to all, if their clients/employees come from the non-Chinese speaking communities and may need to translate certain essential information (such as health and safety).

A requirement that all employees or students cannot wear a turban may be indirectly discriminatory against Sikhs, who cannot in practice comply with it, because they believe they would be losing their identity if they are not allowed to wear their turbans. However, if the condition is placed because the employees/students will have to wear a protective headgear in repair workshops, construction sites or vocational training class for safety reasons to protect them from the risk of injury then it may not constitute discrimination.[12]

You are encouraged to adopt the practices recommended for promoting racial equality in the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO.[13]

Lodging a Complaint

You can take one or more of the following options:

  • Lodge a complaint to the educational establishments or service providers if it is related to education or the provision of goods, services and facilities;
  • Lodge a complaint to the management, if it is employment related;
  • Lodge a complaint to the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC); and/or
  • Take your case to court by yourself or through your own lawyer.

It is important to record the incident immediately and as fully as possible after it has happened to ensure accuracy and strength of your case if you decide to lodge a complaint or take legal action.

A complaint must be submitted in writing and addressed to the EOC. Complaints can be submitted online, or through mail, facsmile, electronic mail or in person. For the purpose of verifying identity, aggrieved person and/or a representative of aggrieved person must provide a copy of his/her valid identity document to the EOC. If you have difficulties in preparing a complaint in writing, please contact the EOC Office.  Our staff will understand the reasons of your difficulties and your need so as to consider providing assistance accordingly.

You can either lodge it yourself or appoint a representative to do it on your behalf. You can either do it individually or in a group.

You should do it within 12 months of the occurrence of the incident if you wish to lodge a complaint with the EOC and two years if you decide to take legal proceedings in the District Court.

Complaints must include:

  • Details and date of the incident;
  • Personal information such as name, contact information, Identity Card number etc;
  • Name and contact details of the respondent(s);
  • Evidence supporting your claims of discrimination, harassment or vilification on the ground of race;
  • Details of any detriment or emotional disturbance you have suffered because of the discriminatory actions; and
  • Information on witness(es).

Investigation and Conciliation

Upon receiving a complaint in writing, the EOC will ascertain whether there had been an unlawful act that fell within the remit of the anti-discrimination ordinances, and whether the complaint was lodged by an aggrieved person or her/his authorised representative. 

Once a case has been classified as a complaint, the EOC will assign a case officer to handle it. The case officer will notify the respondent of the complaint and request a response. The case officer may also write to the complainant, seeking further information or clarification of certain points, and may also ask about witnesses or documentary proof that might support the allegation(s). At all stages of complaint-handling, the EOC would adhere to the principles of impartiality and confidentiality, as well as its established procedures, and adopt a “victim-centric”  approach, which seeks to recognise and pay special attention to the needs of victims, while managing their expectations.. 

The EOC will decide not to conduct or to discontinue an investigation into a complaint if:

  • the act complained of is not unlawful under the RDO;
  • the aggrieved person does not desire to continue with the investigation;
  • more than 12 months have passed since the act was done;
  • the complaint cannot be appropriately pursued as a representative complaint; or
  • the complaint is frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking in substance.

The EOC is required by law to investigate into a complaint and effect a settlement through conciliation. The conciliator of the EOC assists both parties to examine the issues that led to the complaint, identify points of agreement and negotiate a settlement to the dispute. Conciliation is entirely voluntary. The conciliator does not act for either party of the complaint, but would maintain independent and impartial, while adhering to the principle of confidentiality during the conciliation process. The conciliator would discuss the issues in dispute by asking questions designed to help all parties exchange information, develop and examine options for resolution, draft the settlement agreement according to the wishes of the parties and record the outcome.

Settlements vary and may include a letter of apology, financial compensation, enactment of equal opportunities policies, etc. Settlement agreements are equivalent to contracts and are legally binding. Read the EOC brochure on conciliation for additional information.

If the complaint cannot be resolved through conciliation, you may apply to the EOC for legal assistance to go to court. The Legal and Complaints Committee of the EOC will consider and decide on the applications, taking into account the circumstances of each case and a set of established principles. Assistance may include the giving of legal advice, representation by the EOC’s lawyers, legal representation by outside lawyers or any other form of assistance the EOC considers appropriate.

Yes, anyone can go to court directly and initiate civil proceedings under the law without going through the EOC.

For further information, please contact:

Equal Opportunities Commission

Address 16/F., 41 Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong
Phone (852) 2511-8211
SMS 6972566616538 (For people with hearing impairment/ speech difficulties)
EMAIL eoc@eoc.org.hk (For general enquiries only. Please see Important Message here.)
Office Hours Monday to Friday 8:45 a.m. - 5:45 p.m.
  1. ICESCR applies to HKSAR by virtue of Article 39 of the Basic law
  2. Pease refer to RDO Section 8 and Chapter 2 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO for more details
  3. Please refer to RDO Section 8 and Chapter 2 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  4. Please refer to RDO Section 4 and Chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  5. Please refer to RDO Section 6 and Chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  6. Please refer to RDO Section 7 and Chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  7. Please refer to RDO Section 7 and Chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  8. Please refer to RDO Sections 45 and 46 and Chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  9. Please refer to RDO Sections 10, 15, 17-22, 24-29, 34-36, 38-39 and Chapter 3 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  10. Please refer to RDO Sections 11-14, 23, 30-33, 37, 40 and Chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  11. Please refer to RDO section 26-27
  12. Please refer to illustration 12 of Chapter 6 of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO
  13. Please refer to Chapter 5 of the of the Code of Practice on Employment under the RDO