The two leading Hong Kong supermarket chains must be more transparent over how they plan to use part of their government wage subsidies to help the needy, authorities said on Sunday.
ParknShop, and Wellcome, have been told to make public the lists of beneficiaries of their respective “give back” schemes, as well as the amounts involved “for public inspection”.
The move came on Sunday as the head of the Consumer Council cast doubt over the proposals, which included ParknShop holding a lucky draw to give out vouchers, while Wellcome said it would freeze prices on some 300 products for six months.
The proposals were part of the two chains’ commitments to satisfy conditions imposed by the government when they applied for the second round of the employment support scheme, a wage subsidy programme to help businesses survive the coronavirus.
Wellcome, operated by conglomerate Jardine Matheson through Dairy Farm International, received HK$184.5 million to retain 10,149 workers, and has committed to giving back about HK$100 million to the community, or 54 per cent of the subsidy received.
ParknShop, which is part of AS Watson and backed by tycoon Li Ka-shing, pocketed about HK$162 million to keep 8,215 jobs, and has offered to give back HK$81 million, or 50 per cent.
In a radio interview on Sunday, Gilly Wong Fung-han, the Consumer Council CEO, said the two companies should use a “more direct approach” to help the needy.
She dismissed ParknShop’s lucky draw as “not a relief measure at all”.
“Asking people to take part in a lucky draw is to ask them to try their luck,” she said. “You may get the prize or not get anything. It may not help the needy.
“And experience in the past was that large-scale online lucky draws could easily overload the computer systems and there could also be privacy concern – what if there is a personal data leak?”
She also asked ParknShop to explain what it would do in the event there were unclaimed prizes.
On Wellcome’s price-freezing proposal, Wong said the devil would be in the details.
“It depends on the details, because the popularity of the products, the types, and what price level they are talking about to freeze the price,” she said. “And what are those 300 items?”
In a statement, the government also made it clear price-freezing was not in line with one of the principles, and a give-back initiative should be “quantifiable and transparent”.
“We do not support the inclusion of discount offers for customers, including price reductions, price freeze, and any price-sensitive initiatives in their give-back proposals.
“It is not only impossible for the government and the general public to constantly monitor price changes; it is also difficult for us to differentiate the discount offers from the two supermarket chains’ daily promotions.”
Details of the schemes should be made ready by the two supermarkets by December, the government said.
On ParknShop’s lucky draw, the government said it had reminded the supermarket of the need to comply with the relevant laws.
Malina Ngai, the AS Watson CEO, previously said ParknShop had also considered offering 20 per cent discounts on all goods, but this was not adopted and so it came up with the lucky draw.
The supermarket said anyone could join the lucky draw, whether or not they shopped there, and all personal data collected would be destroyed after the event.
Wellcome, meanwhile, said their plan had received the government’s blessing.
“The government has approved our plan of a HK$100 million give back, equivalent to 54 per cent of the employment support scheme subsidy,” the company said in a statement. “We understand that the Covid-19 epidemic could last for some time. Therefore, we launched the Prize Freeze Campaign, hoping to offer support to all customers during this difficult time.”