An original version of this article appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on July 23, 2015:
Up to 96 per cent of shops operated by real estate investment trust The Link are dominated by chain stores, a new survey has revealed.
The survey, conducted by privatisation concern group The Linkwatch, reviewed 22 malls owned and renovated by the investment trust. It found that chain stores, on average, make up 76 per cent of retail outlets in these shopping centres – a six per cent increase since its last survey in 2012.
The Linkwatch also revealed that chain stores account for more than half of total retail space in 19 of the 22 malls. Two shopping arcades, Chung On Shopping Centre and Cheung Fat Plaza, both recorded a retail chain dominance of 96 percent.
The group’s survey found that McDonald’s and houseware retail company Japan Home Centre were the most dominant brands among the surveyed shopping malls. Jardine Matheson and Hutchison Whampoa were the two corporations that rent the most shops in the malls.
The Link was listed in 2005 in a move by the government to privatise shopping malls located in public housing estates. The Link holds assets formerly operated by the Hong Kong Housing Authority, and has been accused of increasing rent rapidly and not renewing contracts for small enterprises.
The Linkwatch has criticised The Link for creating a monopoly of big corporations and for damaging the livelihoods of small shops owners.
On Wednesday, the group demonstrated outside the trust’s annual meeting. Protesters held signs that charged The Link with “killing” small businesses and forcing neighbourhood residents to pay more on their shopping.
The company’s director for corporate communications Lo Bing-chung said that The Link could not make any promises because it was not a governmental department. He said that “elimination of the weak” was consistent with commercial principles.
He added: “We want people to know that we normally do not engage in buying and selling with the shops. So I think it is unfair to blame someone when the shops close down.”
The group urged the government to purchase The Link to make it public, and to set up a transparent and open system that will cap maximum rent hikes for small enterprises.