Stores and street-market stalls in Hong Kong sell fruit and vegetables in non-transparent bags. A clear label on the outside tells you how many pieces of produce are in the bag and what the total price is – for example, six oranges for HK$20. However, there is a catch: retailers lie about the number of pieces in the bag. When the purchaser gets home and gets his oranges out, he invariably finds that there are five, maybe even four, rather than six. It has got to the stage where people think they are getting a really good deal if a bag of 10 oranges, potatoes, or tomatoes contains eight rather than seven.
Anywhere else in the world, retailers would be fined or even jailed for doing this – assuming irate consumers hadn’t already strung them up. These goods are, after all, essential to life, not silly luxuries. But in Hong Kong, it is perfectly legal. And the suppliers collude with one another to ensure no alternative providers can get into the market.
Now, however, in a radical move that food vendors bitterly oppose as a gross infringement of their freedom of speech, the government is passing a law requiring the labels on the bags to show the true number of items. (So accustomed are some Hong Kong shoppers to being cheated that some even half-agreed when the vendors claimed the new law would create intolerable confusion.)
The law is about to take effect, but there are still a few days to go, so the shop owners and market-stall holders are making the most of it. Some are dangling bags of 10 (really seven) apples for HK$20 in front of customers and promising a free pear with every sale; others are offering 20 (really 15) carrots for HK$30, but with a brand new, shiny dollar coin as a free complementary gift at no extra charge while stocks last!!! A few really desperate ones are actually cutting the price, so buyers get a bag of 100 (really 68) grapes at a price equivalent to 90 of the things.
Common sense tells us that the new law will not change anything in reality. Consumers will go on paying HK$2.80 per banana – only the label will state openly there are just five bananas, not eight, in the HK$14 bag. But the vendors’ desperation to sell their existing inventory under the old right-to-rip-off-buyers system suggests otherwise: that their cheating was real and effective, and having to tell the truth will damage their pricing power.
The above is all true, except that we are – of course – talking about real-estate developers, not fruit and vegetable sellers (who are great). Even the bit about freedom of speech (see Section 3 – Disclosure of information on gross floor area (“GFA”), Infringement of freedom of expression)…
For added disbelief at the nerve of these scumbags, feel free to read their ‘Dear friends’ message to the Hong Kong public.
And on a not-totally unrelated note, Kind-Hearted Employer of the Week Award goes to the dock contractors for Hongkong International Terminals who are willing to be flexible about how long staff have to work per day…