HSBC is complicit in human rights abuses against Hong Kong residents by siding with Chinese authorities and denying pension payouts to those who fled the authoritarian crackdown, an inquiry by peers and MPs has concluded.
The report by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Hong Kong took issue with the fact that banks including HSBC – which help to manage the compulsory pension fund that all residents pay into – have bowed to local authorities and refused to recognise the documentation of tens of thousands of residents who have tried to withdraw their pensions after fleeing to the UK.
More than 88,000 people who have left Hong Kong for the UK since early 2021 have been granted residency under the British National Overseas (BNO) visa scheme, after Beijing’s security crackdown intended to suppress widespread pro-democracy protests in 2020.
The Hong Kong government has subsequently refused to recognise BNO visas as valid identification, including pension scheme authorities that govern how money can be withdrawn. The APPG said the move contravened UN guiding principles which state that “everyone has the right to leave any country including his own”.
The inquiry concluded that HSBC’s decision to follow the directive has not only left Hong Kong residents unable to create new and safe lives for themselves in the UK, but also means the bank is complicit in human rights abuses.
HSBC said it followed the pension scheme regulator’s rules when members attempted to withdraw their pensions early. “Scheme members are required to provide evidence of the right of abode outside of Hong Kong,” it said. “The MPFA [Mandatory Provident Fund Authority] has publicly confirmed that a BNO passport cannot be used as such evidence.”
But the APPG chair, Alistair Carmichael MP, said banks including HSBC had “been complicit in the repression of the human rights of innocent Hong Kongers, including those who have fled the increasingly authoritarian pro-Beijing government of Hong Kong”.
“These banks cannot continue to act with impunity, and the UK government must act to assist those who are suffering from the impact of these anti-democratic laws,” he said.
The report will put further pressure on HSBC, which has been widely criticised by western politicians for appearing to side with Chinese officials after the 2020 crackdown. The bank’s leadership has repeatedly refused to be drawn on questions over its political position on the matter.
HSBC said in a statement: “As we told the APPG in November 2021, HSBC has an enduring commitment to Hong Kong, its people and communities. It is where we were founded nearly 160 years ago.
“Like all banks, we have to obey the law, and the instructions of the regulators, in every territory – including Hong Kong – in which we operate.”
The inquiry said HSBC had a significant responsibility to consult lawyers and reform its processes in order to adhere to international human rights standards.
The APPG is also urging the UK government to demand that banks including HSBC unfreeze the accounts of political dissidents, condemn their support for the national security law, and find a solution that would allow BNO residents to withdraw their pension funds.