Wed, Sep 04, 2019 - Page 10 News List

Zara denies HK stores closed due to protests


Fast-fashion giant Zara said store closures in Hong Kong on Monday were not related to ongoing anti-Beijing protests in the territory, after speculation on Chinese social media that the retailer’s employees were supporting the demonstrators.

“Zara has never made any comments or undertaken any actions related to a strike in Hong Kong,” the company said in a post on its Sina Weibo account.

“Zara does not back a strike and supports ‘one country, two systems,’” the post said, referring to a general strike called by unions as part of the protests and China’s policy for governing Hong Kong.

The denial comes as multinational businesses become increasingly ensnared in the volatile conflict that has morphed from a protest against an extradition law into a broader challenge to Beijing’s authority in the territory.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (國泰航空), Hong Kong’s biggest carrier, faced heavy pushback from China after its staff joined the demonstrations, while HSBC Holdings PLC to PricewaterhouseCoopers have been the subject of online speculation over their positions on the protests, which have rocked the former British colony for almost three months.

A company representative who yesterday answered Zara’s Hong Kong hotline confirmed that all of its stores except one on Hong Kong island were shut on Monday, but declined to give a reason for the closures.

Most of Zara’s stores in Hong Kong’s Kowloon District were open on Monday, she said.

Zara is owned by Spanish fashion conglomerate Inditex SA. A spokesperson for Inditex China did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Separately, Cathay Pacific is under investigation by Chinese regulators after emergency oxygen bottles on three flights were found depleted or completely empty, compounding pressure on the Hong Kong airline from mainland authorities.

Cabin crew from the flights have been grounded so they can help with the probe, Cathay Pacific told staff in a memo on Monday.

As well as the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Hong Kong authorities and local police are also investigating, the note said.

Inspections discovered 13 oxygen canisters — designed to be used by crew in an emergency depressurization of the cabin — that were partially or fully discharged, Cathay said last week.

The inquiry is another headache for new chief executive officer Augustus Tang (鄧健榮), weeks after Chinese regulators threatened to bar Cathay Pacific from the mainland because some staff supported the Hong Kong protests.

Cathay Pacific’s note to employees did not apportion blame for the depleted bottles, but said the probe is also drawing in ground staff, caterers, cleaners and engineers. It is almost unheard of for a single airline to find so many canisters empty in such a short space of time.

“This is quite unusual,” said Shukor Yusof, founder of aviation consulting firm Endau Analytics. “It’s hurting Cathay’s brand.”

Cathay Pacific has introduced stricter security checks, according to the memo.

“Cabin crew are required to carry out checks in the cabin, lavatories and crew rest compartment at least every 60 minutes between services, ensuring no suspicious activity,” it said. “Crew should be extra vigilant to emergency equipment stowage areas.”

The bottles found empty were immediately recharged and safety was not compromised, Cathay Pacific said.

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