The Tsim Sha Tusi District in Hong Kong. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/NUR PHOTO/VERNON YUEN
The Tsim Sha Tusi District in Hong Kong. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/NUR PHOTO/VERNON YUEN

Kuala Lumpur — A quarter of Hong Kong’s social enterprises could go out of business by the end of the year, according to a new poll, threatening the jobs of hundreds of employees as the coronavirus pandemic takes a heavy toll on the city’s economy.

Covid-19 has exacerbated the woes of the roughly 600 social enterprises that operate in Hong Kong, which have been suffering a sharp slump in business and consumer sentiment since last year due to huge anti-government street protests.

A survey of 128 social enterprises — businesses that aim to do good while turning a profit — found that one in four expect to run out of cash flow within three months if the pandemic continues to affect their revenue.

“It’s a very challenging outlook,” said Chung Wai-shing, vice-chair of the 76-member Hong Kong General Chamber of Social Enterprises, which released the poll this month.

“We didn’t expect such a situation to drag on for so long and, as social enterprises, we are hit just as hard as other businesses since we don’t rely on donations or funding,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

About a third of the poll’s respondents said their earnings had fallen more than half in the past six months, while one in 10 said they had no income at all.

Hong Kong’s government has been handing out subsidies to help businesses cushion the pandemic impact since early this year, but Chung called for more financial assistance.

Chung, who runs a social business that hires people with disabilities in convenience stores, said the sector often works with vulnerable groups, such as the long-term unemployed or disabled people.

“They are even more vulnerable now and the role of social enterprise has never been greater to help these marginalised people recover from the fallout of the pandemic,” he said.

Delicious Express, a Hong Kong social enterprise selling food that hires impoverished women and disabled people, has had to shut one store, lay off several employees and cut working hours to survive.

“We hope these measures mean we can stay afloat for a longer term,” said company founder Eva Mak, who has 13 staff. “The job doesn’t only give them an income, most importantly it helps them rebuild confidence as many of them were unemployed for a long time.” 

Hong Kong has detected 4,976 cases of the coronavirus that emerged in central China late last year, and recorded 101 deaths.

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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