As global brands stumble into Hong Kong havoc, many try to apologize their way out

The ongoing Hong Kong protests are snaring global brands in their crossfire, and they now walk a fine line to protect the bottom line.

For 18 consecutive weeks, anti-government protests in Hong Kong have pitted activists and police against each other in a series of increasingly violent standoffs.

It’s a sticky political situation. And while it could determine the future political autonomy of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, the outcome of the clash is uncertain

But, politics aside, the ongoing smackdown has started impacting global businesses. 

And as brands navigate the hostile waters between the 2 global economic powers of Hong Kong and mainland China, many are dishing out the apologies to protect their bottom lines. 

Which companies have been impacted — and how?

One high-profile business free-thrown into the chaos: the NBA. 

After a Houston Rockets employee commented on the protests, China’s state-run broadcaster suspended preseason NBA broadcasts. Fearful of losing China’s 1.4B-person fanbase — and the millions they spend — NBA and Rockets reps apologized to Chinese fans, igniting debate.

But the NBA wasn’t the only company to commit a foul in this high-stakes game. Here’s a rundown of other companies involved:

  • Activision Blizzard: Under pressure from China, the US video-game giant banned a HK player for speaking out… only to kickstart a #BoycottBlizzard campaign among longtime players.
  • Zara: Critics accused the Spanish retailer of picking sides in the conflict, forcing Zara to issue a public apology to keep the peace.
  • Vans: When the American cool-kid shoemaker removed a protest-themed entry from its annual design contest, it accidentally kickstarted a #BoycottVans movement.
  • South Park: After being banned from China for making an episode called “Band in China,” the American comedy show’s creators escalated the feud by issuing a sarcastic apology
  • Starbucks and Shake Shack: Protestors have targeted HK branches of the 2 American restaurant chains with looting, arson, and graffiti due to a partnership with a controversial franchisee.

So, what’s next for business in Hong Kong and China?

The protests have gone on long enough to make a serious dent in Hong Kong’s economy: Goldman Sachs estimates that $4B in capital slipped out Hong Kong’s back door and ended up in Singapore just this past summer.

In China, on the other hand, the NBA (which recently signed a reported $1.5B streaming deal with Tencent) and other big brands will likely keep doing everything they can to keep the Chinese cash coming.

At least, that’s what other brands have done: In recent months, Gap, Marriott, Daimler AG, United Airlines, Delta, McDonald’s, Asics, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Coach, and Versace all apologized to China for their insensitivity.

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