Hong Kong beverage company Vitasoy is planning to collect personal information on its workers and their family members, including employment history and membership of various associations, local media reported.

Employees were asked to sign a form agreeing to share information on themselves and family members including background checks and involvement with other organisations, Stand News reported.

Vitasoy. Photo: SuAMENIBPO havuid, via Wikicommons.

Singtao Daily also reported that if employees fail to provide the information requested, Vitasoy might not be able to pay them.

Vitasoy, in response to HKFP enquiries, said the request was made because of a computer system upgrade, and they “approached staff members seeking their authorisation of migrating general personal information to the new system.”

The company said it had always dealt with personal information on staff “in a strict and careful manner,” and all documents were “reviewed and revised by the external legal counsel to ensure compliance.”

Vitasoy said it was organising briefing sessions for staff on the new system.

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions Chief Executive Mung Siu-tat told an RTHK radio programme on Monday morning that Vitasoy’s move was “very rare.”

“Because when corporations ask to collect personal information on their staff, it’s usually only for employment arrangements, such as giving out salary and filing tax returns,” said Mung.

“Now the range of information collected was very broad, including the personal background of the employees and their family members….we can’t see how collecting this information is relevant to their duties as an employer.”

Mung said Vitasoy’s request might have violated the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.

July 1 attack relevance

Mung said he suspected the new policy was linked to Leung Kin-fai, the man who committed suicide after stabbing a police officer on the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover.

Mung Siu-tat. File Photo: Varsity.

“We know that the man was an employee of Vitasoy, people can’t help but have doubts,” said Mung.

Vitasoy’s share plunged in July after the company came under fire from Chinese netizens for an unauthorised internal memo which expressed condolences to the family of the 50-year-old attacker.

The company disowned the memo and said it may take legal action against the employee responsible for issuing it.

Vitasoy also said in a statement at the time that it “fully supported” a probe under the national security law into the incident, adding it was committed to supporting the stability, prosperity and development of Hong Kong and mainland China.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data told HKFP that it would not comment on individual cases “but would keep an eye on developments in the matter.”

It said employers have the right to collect personal data on staff “by means which are lawful and fair,” but the collection must not be excessive.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.