[UPDATE: Friday, June 10 - 11:30am]
Cosmetics brand Lancome reopened its shops across Hong Kong yesterday. They had been closed while protests were held against the company’s cancellation of a concert by Canto-pop star Denise Ho Wan-sze.
On Wednesday, some Lancome shops across Hong Kong didn’t open, and there were more than 50 people protesting at the Lancome counter in Times Square.
But Abhay Venkitaraman, 13, from King George V School, thinks protests aren’t the solution. “I am outraged by what Lancome has done, and people have the right to express how they feel. But the protests at Lancome’s shop only affect the shop workers, and the problem doesn’t lie with them.”
The trouble began after Lancome invited Ho, who is blacklisted by the mainland for her vocal pro-democracy views, to host a mini-concert in Hong Kong on June 19, then abruptly called it off after mainland criticism.
This resulted in an angry backlash from Hongkongers, who accused L’Oreal, Lancome’s parent company, of kowtowing to Beijing. This led to support for an online petition calling for a reconsideration of the cancellation to multiply on Thursday.
French citizen and former philosophy teacher Beatrice Desgranges started a petition on change.org on Monday after learning about the incident. By 10.30am on Friday, Desgranges’ petition had been signed by more than 40,000 people.
She wrote in her petition that it was unacceptable for Lancome, as an “ambassador of France” in Hong Kong, to “sacrifice the freedom of thought and expression to their commercial policy”.
L’Oreal Hong Kong could not be reached for comment, while a L’Oreal Hong Kong spokeswoman reiterated that the company had nothing to add to its statements issued on Sunday.
On her Facebook page yesterday, Ho urged everyone to stand up against “the white terror that is spreading in our societies” and to fight for freedom of speech.
White terror is a phrase that stemmed from a four-decade period in Taiwan, when thousands were imprisoned or executed because they resisted the government. In Hong Kong, it is now often used to refer to situations where people are punished for standing up to the government.
[UPDATE: Thursday, June 9 - 10:30am]
Yesterday, the controversy over Lancome’s cancellation of Canto-pop star Denise Ho’s concert resulted in mainland internet users threatening to boycott a host of Hong Kong companies tied to the city’s richest billionaire, Li Ka-shing. Meanwhile, 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. Ho’s critics said their “revenge” would be boycotting a companies related to the Li family. Companies including Moov, Watsons, Johnson and Johnson, and Listerine, of which Ho is a spokeswoman.
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 in Causeway Bay 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 brought along yellow umbrellas, the symbol of the 2014 Occupy protest that Ho had been involved in.
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”.
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.”
[UPDATE: Wednesday, June 8 - 1.00pm]
Several cosmetic brands under the L’Oreal group have closed their stores in shopping malls and department stores across the city, hours before a planned protest against Lancome’s decision to cancel a concert amid criticism from mainland China.
Lancome’s booth at Lane Crawford, Times Square, was the target of the Wednesday afternoon protest initiated by the League of Social Democrats and seven other groups. The brand had cancelled a concert involving Canto-pop star Denise Ho Wan-sze.
South China Morning Post found that the Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté and Helena Rubinstein booths, as well as Shu Uemura store at Times Square, were all closed on Wednesday. All four brands are under the Paris-based L’Oreal group.
A note was posted outside the Shu Uemura store, saying: “Our store will be closed on 8 June. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.”
Lancome counters in Sogo and Hysan Place in Causeway Bay were both closed, while those for other brands under L’Oreal, as Shu Uemura, were open. The Sogo information desk said the Lancome counter would not open on Wednesday, but they didn't know why.
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”.
At least two petitions have been 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.