Hong Kong Institute of Marketing AGM and Dinner

“Marketing Equal Opportunities in HK” — A Case Study (只備英文版)Speech by Ms Anna Wu, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission


I am very pleased to be present at the Hong Kong Institute of Marketing's Annual General Meeting, it seems too good an opportunity to pass up, just imagine the multiplying effect of speaking about equal opportunities to so many senior marketing professionals. I hope by the end of my speech tonight, you would also be able to contribute new ideas to what the Equal Opportunities Commission can do in terms of marketing and promoting our values. I know that you are interested in finding out about how my colleagues and I market a basically conceptual product, the delivery of a social message.


Let me start off by explaining the name of our Commission. Many members of the public still think that Equal Opportunities means equality, in the sense of sameness or equal numbers. I'm sure you have all heard the saying, "Every man, and here I should add every woman, is born equal but some are more equal than others." Well, every individual is unique, but what we are saying is to simply ignore the irrelevant factors, such as whether the person is male or female, black or yellow, married or single and offer the individual a fair chance to go as far as their talents and abilities can take them. Equal Opportunities is about building a society based on meritocracy.

The EOC is committed to making Hong Kong a more open, fair and progressive society in which all people can share the fruits of its success. That is, everyone should have equal access to education, employment, services and facilities. Everyone should also have the right and fair chance to participate in the social, political and cultural life of Hong Kong.

The basic philosophy behind the concept of equal opportunities is to create a level playing field for every individual. This allows an individual to develop his/her potential as fully as possible, and enables an individual to rely on his/her own abilities as far as possible. It is empowerment of the individual to achieve excellence, as well as to reduce reliance on the public purse.

Many leaders have come to realize that to survive and excel in the new millennium, a community has to focus on getting the best talents. Bias of any kind is going to hinder development and is a luxury a community cannot afford to have.

In the employment world, the concept of equal opportunities is about using human resources effectively. It means matching the right person with the right job. We focus on people's abilities, not on their gender, marital status, or other irrelevant criteria. When the best person hired for a job happens to be a person with a disability, or a woman, he or she will also identify the market niche and bring in new business.

By tapping into the largest pool of available talents and by recognizing diversity, employers can enhance the quality of their staff. Diversity in an organisation will encourage innovative ideas and improve its competitive edge.

Instead of restricting one's choices on the basis of prejudice, equal opportunities policies in the workplace are expanding the range of choices by recognizing an individual's merits based on consistent selection criteria. People with relevant skills and talents should be given equal opportunities without reference to irrelevant factors. Successful companies around the world now recognize that it makes good business sense when every employee feels fully valued and staff morale is high.

Of course the EOC is relatively new compared to our counterparts in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Now almost five years old, we are still battling on a daily basis to implement Hong Kong's three anti-discrimination ordinances. However, judging from what is happening overseas, I remain optimistic. Needless to say we are still quite a number of years behind, but just to give you a glimpse of what may be possible, I have picked out certain examples which may appeal to your marketing acumen.

A number of travel agencies in Japan are marketing barrier-free tours for the physically disabled. Theses packages are specially designed in areas such as transportation means, meals, choice of destination and even assistance in the immigration of guide-dogs. One example is a travel plan for people with diabetes which offers special menus and a nurse on duty throughout the whole trip. Another tailor-made wheelchair tour of Los Angeles includes in its itinerary visits to a research center for spinal-cord damage, a rehabilitation hospital, a healthcare equipment store as well as a chance to watch a wheelchair-basketball practice (More information at http://jin.jcic.or.jp/trends). Meanwhile in Australia, for the first time in their lives, those who are totally visually impaired will have their first secret ballot when a company introduces the option of voting online in coming September. It will be the first major election in Australia with an online component in addition to the traditional way of using a postal ballot paper (More information at http://www.hreoc.gov.au).

In Hong Kong we are campaigning for "IT for all" on the basis of individual right and market share. Information technology must be accessible to the people who are visually impaired and people without the dexterity to control the keyboard because everyone has the right to information. Accessibility also means business, it means market share with a captive consumer base. Persons with a disability will rely on information technology not only to seek information but also to conduct electronic transactions daily. And it is information technology that will bridge the gaps for them. Similarly, we are advocating barrier free access to shopping plazas because persons on wheelchairs are loyal customers.

You can see that equal opportunities means business, and that is why promotion and marketing equal opportunities is crucial to the success of our work, women and persons with a disability create market forces, once businesses wake up to that fact, they will realize that there is a whole new world of consumers out there.


Lets talk about Equal Opportunities in a language that you are familiar with. I have heard about the 4 golden rules of Marketing, Product, People, Price, and Promotion.

1. Product – Equal Opportunities is a relatively new product, but it is one that everybody needs, whether you are a man, woman, a disabled person, who happens to be an employer, employee, a homemaker or a student. An equal opportunity environment is good for the whole society, because its ultimate value is about using human resources effectively and developing our human capital. For the community to prosper, we must weave a less arbitrary social fabric for each diverse human gift to find a place.

Legislation against discrimination has been in effect since 1996. The three anti-discrimination laws which are currently applicable in Hong Kong are the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance and the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance.

The ordinances encompass five distinct areas: gender, marital status, pregnancy, disability and family status. The areas of activities to which the ordinances apply include employment; education; provision of goods, services and facilities; clubs; and activities of government. The legislation applies to almost every aspect of a citizen's life.

2. People – on an individual level any aggrieved person may lodge a complaint with the EOC. The Commission will investigate into the matter and endeavour to effect a settlement by conciliation. If the complaint cannot be settled, the complainant may initiate civil proceedings at the District Court. The EOC may provide legal assistance to the complainant in the form of giving advice or arranging representation.

So far we have been able to help individuals to secure their rights either through compensation or remedial action. We now have established an efficient and effective system to help individuals obtain redress for acts of discrimination. On the community level, we identify needs through our own research and surveys. Sometimes it may mean media analysis of news reports to find out what can be done.

But discrimination can work in many ways. We have now moved on to combat systemic discrimination by looking at some of the established practices in the community. Our aim is to make specific recommendations to rectify the situation, changing the system itself, if such discrimination is found to exist. These system changes will not only benefit a larger number of people, but will have a widespread and positive impact on our society. Focusing on issues that affect the livelihood and quality of life for everyone, areas such as education, medical and health concerns, and housing are top priorities. Our policy analysis identifies some of the underlying problems, enhances awareness of the situation and acts as a catalyst for change.

3. Price – the price can be steep if Hong Kong's equal opportunities laws are not adhered to. In the last year, several high profile events in which the government and businesses have been implicated in serious violations of our anti-discrimination laws have shown that equal opportunities is an issue for the government as well as private enterprise. Unfortunately the price for not adopting equal opportunities is a hard learned lesson. The fact is, it is illegal, it can mean liabilities, monetary losses, loss of reputation and just bad publicity. Often the costs are too high.

Intensifying media interest on the impact of the work of the Commission has led decision makers to recognize the need to factor in a new perspective. They have begun to realize that good management practice is a key performance indicator, while those who ignore the standards will face the consequences.

4. Promotion – how do we promote equal opportunities and fight discrimination? We use a wide range of promotional tools, from dinner speeches like this one, to mass media campaigns to court cases. People start to wake up to equal opportunities when they know they are protected under the law, and that the Commission can effect change.

We have also been actively promoting equal opportunities both in the business and general community through our codes of practice, educational programs, publications and of course our website. To promote our values effectively, we are acutely aware of the need for strategic alliances to be established. We are therefore working in close partnership with the business community and also certain government departments to ensure that equal opportunity practices are in place in the work environment.

It is evident that turning commitment to principle to operational policies is becoming a challenge for the public and private sectors. As stakeholders begin to professionalize their internal approach to address equal opportunities, it will be necessary for them to maintain the kind of sophistication they require to anticipate foreseeable challenges well. The commission has been approached to develop policies and practices. It is a professional effort, a comprehensive process from establishing objective and targets, and from staff training to operational procedures and auditing mechanisms. Ultimately, the program is a useful guide for any stakeholder, integrating equal opportunities into principles, policies and activities.

Success lies in mainstreaming the values of equal opportunities. This can work in the private and public sectors. This means factoring in the values of equal opportunities at the start of every project or policy, be it budgeting, design or the system. The next decision you make, make it a proactive one. Let's ask ourselves, is the design universal encompassing the needs of everyone, men, women and persons with a disability? Are the policies fair, bias-free, ensuring equality for all? For a start, the government as the largest employer, should be a role model in implementing equal opportunities policies and practices. And the government as the largest purchaser of services and goods can also give preference to equal opportunity employers and providers.


Entering our fifth year and the new millennium, we will take a more proactive role in combating discrimination and promoting equal opportunities. To do this, the EOC adopts a 4A approach. The 4As are :
• Advice
• Advocacy
• Audit
• Action

Advice and Advocacy. They are about advising people on the provisions of the law, advocating good practices and persuading people to abide by equal opportunities principles in their work place and their daily life. Heightening public awareness of equal opportunities concepts is the most effective means of facilitating change.

Audit and Action are about checking government and corporate procedures and systems, that is, examining whether practices are in compliance with the current legislation, making recommendations for improvements and taking up enforcement measures as a last resort if nothing else works.

An example of our advice and advocacy role is the proposal for a Code of Practice on Education under the Disability Discrimination Ordinance to promote integrated education for children with disabilities. Views from all of you on this code would be very much welcome.

In August 1999, the EOC issued a report on the Secondary School Places Allocation System. This was done under our formal investigation powers. We found that the system treated both girls and boys unfairly but more girls than boys were adversely affected. This system has been used by the Education Department for over 20 years. The EOC is now seeking a court decision on the lawfulness of the system. This is an example of our audit and action role.


We are at the dawn of a new century , we need new wisdom to meet new challenges. At the 1999 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on world business leaders to initiate a Global Compact of shared values and principles to give a human face to the global market. The Global Compact challenges businesses to support nine principles related to human rights, and the environment. I would like to draw your attention to just two of these :

• Make sure (their own) corporations are not complicit in human rights abuses; and
• Eliminate discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Recent demonstrations against the abuses of trade liberalization at the 2001 World Economic Forum at Davos drove home the point that for any trade liberalization policy to succeed, the policy must bring benefit to the individuals of a community.

About two weeks ago, a distinguished visitor from the UN, Mr. John Ruggie , the assistant Secretary General came by for a talk. He told us that 400 companies, mainly from the Fortune 500 group have signed up to join the Global Compact. Two major Hong Kong companies have also joined the lengthy list.

There is no doubt that the globalization of markets is producing a degree of convergence in actual operations and governance practices. Countries and firms compete on the price and quality of their goods and services. They also compete for financial resources in global capital markets. These global market pressures provide the impetus for private investors to harmonize corporate governance to reduce risk to investors and hold down the cost of capital to corporations.

Increasingly, corporations are required to operate in a fair, transparent and accountable manner. Numerous public and private bodies have responded by establishing standards and norms related to important aspects of corporate governance. Among them is the World Trade Organization.

What impact does this have on the consumer? Social expectations of companies have changed dramatically in recent years. Trust in brand names can be destroyed overnight. Business now recognizes that increasingly consumers are demanding that the foods they eat, the clothes they wear and the products they use daily are manufactured under ethical working conditions. These include fair employment opportunities for men and women, fair wages, a safe working place and a clean environment to name a few. Market share and brand name value depend on consumer acceptance of a company's employment policy, servicing standards and manufacturing conditions. Failures in these areas sometimes lead to consumer boycotts.

Social accountability and marketability are becoming more and more entwined, and rights advocates recognize that industries and business create jobs and they must become a partner in the advancement and development of a community.


Equal Opportunities is about people and it is about everyone. We are in the people's business. Our messages are:

For the individual

• Everyone has the right to development without which life and survival would be meaningless.

For the business sector

• Social accountability means marketability. Equal opportunities make good business sense.

For the community

• Hong Kong's only asset is people. Equal Opportunities is about the advancement of our human capital and is the only way we can sustain our development.

The anti-discrimination laws have created a milestone in Hong Kong's history, and the Commission is here to motivate the community to make it work. I hope I have your support.