June 8, 2016 / 8:42 AM / in 2 years

Lancome shuts main Hong Kong stores as protesters accuse it of bowing to China

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Lancome, the face-cream company owned by French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, shut main stores in Hong Kong on Wednesday as protesters gathered accusing it of bowing to China by cancelling a concert featuring a pro-democracy singer.

Protesters, with a portrait of a local pop singer Denise Ho, demonstrate outside a shopping mall, where the luxury skincare brand Lancome's stall is located, in Hong Kong, China June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Carrying yellow umbrellas, a symbol of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, and colorful banners in Chinese, English and French, dozens of protesters packed tightly inside Times Square’s plush Lane Crawford store in Causeway Bay and shouted “L’Oreal! No self-censorship.”

They also called for a boycott of L’Oreal products.

Lancome pulled the concert starring cantopop singer Denise Ho after an online post by the Global Times, a tabloid published by China’s Community Party’s People’s Daily newspaper, criticized Lancome for working with Ho and sparked calls online in China to shun Lancome’s business on the mainland.

Ho has expressed support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement and the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet denounced in Beijing as a dangerous separatist.

L’Oreal, which has a market capitalization of 95 billion euros ($108 billion), counts China as its number two market in sales, behind the United States. The company has said it canceled the concert due to safety concerns.

Student-led protesters blocked Hong Kong streets for 79 days in the 2014 umbrella revolution, calling for Beijing to allow a fully democratic vote for the leader of the former British colony in 2017, the biggest political challenge to Beijing’s Communist Party leaders in years. Beijing refused to budge.

Ho, one of the main celebrities endorsing the umbrella revolution, had been due to perform on June 19. She wrote on her Facebook page on June 6 that Lancome’s decision was due to self-censorship.

“When a brand like Lancome has to kneel down to a bullying hegemony, we must face the problem seriously as the world’s values have been seriously twisted,” she said.

The Hong Kong office of L’Oreal, whose brands include Body Shop and Armani perfume, would not comment on Wednesday.

Suzanne Wu, chairman of the Labour Party, one of the organisers of the protests, said: “We support her (Ho) because we shall not give in under the pressure of the Communist Party.”

Ho has been a particular thorn in Beijing’s side, posting photos online of herself with the Dalai Lama in May and speaking openly about the need to fight for democracy and social justice.

Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula, allowing it freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

Writing by Farah Master; Additional reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Nick Macfie

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