9th July 2014
The Big Four accountancy firms have been slammed by their own employees after they attacked a pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Staff at EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte sought to distance themselves from their employers after the four firms took out advertisements in three Chinese-language newspapers criticising the Occupy Central movement, which is calling for Beijing to carry out promised electoral reform in the city.
Protesters are incensed that a commitment to roll out universal suffrage in Hong Kong by 2017 is being watered down by China as it seeks to ensure only candidates from a Beijing-approved list could stand. Occupy Central has threatened a campaign of civil disobedience, which is worrying some in the business community.
In the joint ads, the Big Four firms said: “We hereby announce that we are opposed to this movement, and are concerned that ‘Occupy Central’ would have negative and long-lasting impact on the rule of law, the society and the economy of Hong Kong. We hope that the disagreements could be resolved through negotiation and dialogue instead.”
They also warn that “banks, exchanges, and the stock market would inevitably be affected… regulatory bodies could also be unable to function normally, raising market instability and confusion and causing losses to the economy and public livelihood which are difficult to estimate”.
Days later an ad was carried in newspapers purportedly from staff at the four companies that said: “Hey boss, your statement doesn’t represent us.”
Certainly the Big Four are not entirely alone in their reservations about the movement. The chambers of commerce of Hong Kong, Italy, Canada and India have all voiced concerns. Banks are also worried, with Barclays and HSBC among those to air their concerns about the effects of civil disobedience on Hong Kong’s economy.
It raises some important questions about the rule of law and protest and how it can impact businesses. But it also highlights that accountancy firms are in the public glare as much as the businesses they work on behalf of.