Denise Ho controversy: protesters march despite Lancome closing Hong Kong stores

Escalation seen as shops for cosmetics brands under L’Oreal group stay shut in wake of criticism for cancellation of Canto-pop star’s concert while some urge boycott of businesses backing star

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2016, 11:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 June, 2016, 8:51pm

The controversy over Lancome’s cancellation of Canto-pop star Denise Ho’s concert escalated on Wednesday with mainland internet users threatening to boycott a host of Hong Kong companies tied to the city’s richest billionaire, while local activists called for supporters to boycott all brands under the L’Oreal group.

Mainland internet users were angered after Hong Kong music app Moov suggested on Monday that it would “employ Denise Ho permanently”.

Moov is an app owned by PCCW, a company run by Richard Li Tzar-kai, son of Li Ka-shing. Ho’s critics said they would exact “revenge” by boycotting a range of companies related to Li’s family, such as Moov, Watsons, Johnson and Johnson, and Listerine, of which Ho is a spokeswoman.

On Weibo, a user going by the handle Qiyu Xian’ang239 said: “Let’s start by boycotting small stuff … such as not buying Watsons mineral water.”

Another user going by the handle Tangjia Momo said: “Your permanent recruitment [of Ho] means we will boycott permanently.”

In a statement on Wednesday, PCCW said Richard Li and Moov respected “freedom of expression”. However, it added that the two were “staunchly opposed to the independence of Hong Kong”.

The statement added that Moov had “no intention to engage in political matters” and that “the expression ‘permanent employment’ was implemented prior to online comments that linked the message to political discussions about Hong Kong’s independence”.

Despite the Lancome store being closed, dozens of protesters gathered outside Times Square mall on Wednesday afternoon to protest the cosmetics giant’s decision to call off Canto-pop star Denise Ho Wan-sze’s concert.

Those present included at least six pan-democrat lawmakers – League of Social Democrats’ “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Democrat Helena Wong Pik-wan, Civic Party’s Claudia Mo Man-ching, Labour Party’s Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and Cyd Ho Sau-lan, and NeoDemocrat Gary Fan Kwok-Wai. Fan brought with him a placard stating: “We are all Ho Wan-Sze, say no to the mainland’s hegemony.”

Demosisto secretary general Joshua Wong Chi-fung also attended.

Several protesters opened yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the 2014 Occupy protest that Ho had been involved in.

Since Lancome’s store and office at Times Square were closed, protesters only shouted slogans such as

“Say no to self-censorship” and put up placards at the store’s signboards and light-boxes before leaving peacefully. The League’s chairman Avery Ng Man-yuen warned that L’Oreal, Lancome’s parent company, should apologise within the week, or they would take “further action”.

Ho did not attend the rally, but Leung said she told him that “the matter is not just about me and Lancome any more – it’s a white terror”.

Aside from Lancome’s booth at Lane Crawford, Times Square, the Post found Yves Saint Laurent Beauté and Helena Rubinstein’s booths, as well as Shu Uemura’s store at Times Square were all closed.

A note was posted outside the Shu Uemura store, saying: “Our store will be closed on June 8. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.”

Hilda Choy Oi-ling, a fan of the singer, said she had come to the rally after reading about it on Facebook. She said the Lancome store could be closed because they were worried the protesters would disrupt their business.

“This is ridiculous! Are we monsters?” she asked.

Choy, who is unemployed, said that a list of brands associated with L’Oreal had been posted on Facebook.

Mike Ha, a 30-year-old entrepreneur shopping at Times Square, said Lancome should not have cancelled the concert. “Maybe they did it for political reasons, but it will undermine Lancome’s international image.”

Aside from the outlets in Times Square, various stores across the city under the group had also stayed shut.

Lancome counters in Sogo and Hysan Place in Causeway Bay were both closed, while those for other brands under L’Oreal, such as Shu Uemura, were open. The Sogo information desk said the Lancome counter would not open on Wednesday, but they had no knowledge of the reason for this.

Other closed Lancome locations included the shop at Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, and the store at Cityplaza, Taikoo Shing.

Lancome had invited the singer to host a mini-concert in Hong Kong on June 19, but abruptly called off the event on Sunday after Beijing newspaper Global Times accused it of inviting “a Hong Kong and Tibet independence advocate to promote products” while mainland internet users threatened to boycott the brand.

However, after Lancome cancelled the concert citing “possible safety reasons”, Hong Kong internet users and political activists also vowed to boycott all brands under the L’Oreal group, including Lancome, Shu Uemura, Kiehl’s and the Body Shop.

Meanwhile, Ho said Lancome should “stand firm on its core values and moral standards”.

The singer was speaking up for the first time in a live interview with the BBC on Tuesday night, hours after the Global Times argued in its editorial that people “should not do things that jeopardise China’s interest if they were to take part in and benefit from the Chinese market”.

Ho was among more than 200 people arrested as the pro-democracy Occupy protests ended in December 2014. She was blacklisted by mainland media along with singer Anthony Wong Yiu-ming.

Last month, Ho met the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, on her 39th birthday.

There have been at least two petitions launched to raise concerns about Lancome’s controversial decision, including one initiated by the eight groups planning the protest and eight other local groups. Another petition was launched on the change.com website by Beatrice Desgranges, believed to be a French citizen, for L’Oreal Hong Kong’s president and managing director Stephen Mosely to reconsider the cancellation. By 10am on Wednesday, it had drawn about 4,200 supporters, 800 away from its target of 5,000.

Speaking to a BBC interviewer on Tuesday, Ho said she was “shocked and saddened” by Lancome’s decision.

“As an international brand, it should stand firm on its core values and moral standards … It is not just about making money,” Ho said.

She had issued a statement on Monday urging Lancome’s office in Paris to come clean on the decision.

L’Oreal Hong Kong and Paris could not be reached for comment.

Additional reporting by Fred Lai and Lauren Chan

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