British consumers have faced a tough few months — but for those banking with HSBC, times may be about to get tougher still.
Following a reported 35 per cent fall in its quarterly profits, HSBC has announced that it might have to start charging its customers for basic services such as current accounts
British customers would be forgiven if they start looking to take their business elsewhere — but not only for this reason.
When the FinCEN files leaked in September, HSBC’s involvement in an international Ponzi scheme sent the bank’s share prices tumbling. It had been warned about the account holder’s suspicious activities, but moved their money anyway. As anyone who followed HSBC’s relationship with China knows, this wasn’t the first time it had chosen to ignore the human cost of its business relationships.
In fact, it reflected a cynical pattern of behaviour from HSBC — one that is epitomised by its backing for Hong Kong’s draconian National Security Law, and the brutal authorities who have been trying to stamp out the freedom and democracy movement in the territory.
When Hong Kong’s establishment, overseen by Beijing, introduced the National Security Law this summer, it drew international condemnation. The rules are grossly overreaching: targeting any individual, anywhere in the world, who commits any act that could be construed as critical of the Hong Kong government.
HSBC’s history in the region meant it would have been uniquely placed to take a stand against the rising wave of totalitarianism. Instead, it chose the side of the oppressor: issuing a statement of support for “all laws that stabilise Hong Kong’s social order”.
As we speak, the people of Hong Kong are fighting for basic rights which we in the UK take for granted. The new rules have effectively ended freedom of speech and protest in the city in one fell swoop. Overnight, a core tenet of democracy — being able to disagree with your government — crumbled. The move is part of an increasingly brutal regime overseen by mainland China, which has seen the city’s police deliberately use violence and intimidation to dissuade protesters.
The Chinese-orchestrated roll-back of freedoms in Hong Kong is a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration — a UN-recognised treaty that both countries signed in 1984 agreeing how the colony would be governed after Britain relinquished control. HSBC, a British bank with a long history of operating in Hong Kong, has flourished in the territory’s liberal economy.
But the rule of law is fundamental to the proper working of a market economy. The bank cannot support the erosion of democracy in one part of the world while benefiting from it in another. To do so is hypocritical.
HSBC can and must do better. If it will not make this move on its own, then it must be persuaded. If companies like BlackRock, Aviva or Legal and General begin to pull their vast investments in the bank, that would send a clear message of support to the people of Hong Kong who are battling for their freedom.
Once a beacon of democracy, Hong Kong’s time as a free city is in danger of running out. Our own banks cannot benefit from the torture and disenfranchisement of innocent people. Now is the time for all who have dealings with HSBC — be it shares, bank accounts or sponsorship arrangements — to send a clear message that their support will be withdrawn if the company continues to endorse blatant human rights abuses.
We must show the people of Hong Kong who are fighting for the soul of their city that they are not alone.
Main image credit: Getty