Daily Banking News

Ministers must take banks to task over Hong Kong, warns Labour

Dominic Raab has been urged to take the bosses of HSBC and Standard Chartered to task as concerns over the banks’ support for a controversial law in Hong Kong deepens.  

Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said Mr Raab must “take a tougher stance” and warn bank chiefs Noel Quinn and Bill Winters that there are “consequences” for companies that fail to uphold human rights responsibilities under OECD guidelines. 

“So far as I understand it, nobody in government has approached HSBC and Standard Chartered to remind them of their responsibilities,” she said. “It would be extremely welcome to have a clear statement from HSBC and Standard Chartered disassociating themselves from that national security law.”

Her comments come days after 15 pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong resigned in protest after government officials dismissed four of their colleagues on alleged national security grounds.

A national security law which criminalises acts authorities deem as subversion was imposed by Beijing this summer, publicly backed by the London-listed banks.

Mr Raab said last week that Beijing’s move to unseat the officials was in formal breach of an international treaty promising freedoms in Hong Kong for at least 50 years after the former British colony was returned to Beijing in 1997.

Ms Nandy, who plans to lay out her concerns in a letter to Mr Raab over the coming weeks, argued that his “strong words” need to be backed with action as “British companies like HSBC and Standard Chartered continue to support these unlawful actions”.

The two banks have long acted as a financial bridge between East and West but are now caught threatened on both sides after backing the Hong Kong law earlier this year.

The move sparked condemnation from Western leaders, human rights campaigners and activists around the world, with Stephen Kinnock, the shadow Asia minister, last week tweeting that the Government must now hold the banks to account.

Mr Raab said earlier this year that “our responsibilities in this country to the people of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed on the altar of bankers’ bonuses”.

HSBC – which was founded in Hong Kong in 1865 and makes almost all of its money in Asia – has avoided commenting but Standard Chartered’s Bill Winters admitted earlier this year that the rising tensions were “troubling” and a “tremendous preoccupation for us”.

Lord Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, would not comment on the banks’ involvement but said the “best advice to both corporate citizens and individual citizens when faced on assaults on all the values we hold should be to behave decently.”

Spokesmen for HSBC and Standard Chartered have previously defended backing the security law.

A spokesman for the Government said: “We are in close contact with a wide range of businesses in Hong Kong, but it is for businesses themselves to make their own judgement calls.”

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