Policies on sewage treatment and decline of dyeing industry. Review on the post-war development of dyeing industry in Hong Kong

The high cost of sewage treatment was only one of the reasons why dyeing factories had to shut down.In terms of environmental protection and social responsibility, though sewage treatment would add on the cost of production, China Dyeing Works was still engaged in better treatment of the sewage the company discharge. The cost of power was getting higher and higher. Before 2000, the company's production volume was high so sewage discharge was also high. The company believed it was still cost effective to treat its own sewage. However when production volume decreased, maintaining its own sewage treatment became less cost effective.
China Dyeing Works had two options. According to the license agreement, if the sewage discharged was qualified to a certain standard, then the licensee can discharge a certain volume of sewage. For instance, if the COD of the discharged sewage was below a certain level, then the licensee would not be required to pay the sewage surcharge fee. But if the COD was above that certain level, then sewage surcharge would be imposed. China Dyeing Works had chosen to pay the sewage surcharge fee, as the company believed that it was more cost effective than running its own sewage treatment facility. Not far from Yuen Long Industrial Estate near the sea, there was the government-run Wang Chau Sewage Treatment Plant. It was a rather large facility. Since industrial production at the Industrial Estate has decreased, volume of discharged sewage also declined. The sewage treatment plant would sometimes work less than its optimum level during a week. The plant would be quite content to handle the sewage from China Dyeing Works. Since the treated sewage would be discharged to the sea through Hau Hoi Wan so decolorization involved would not be so vigorous. If the sewage was discharged to a river, then higher level of decolorization would be needed.
Factory owners were supportive to environmental protection. But during the 1993 to 1994, most of the dyeing factories were not prepared to fulfill the environmental protection policy. In the 1950s and 1960s, factories provided employment to the locals so factory owners were praised as entrepreneurs. However, they were seen as polluter around 1993 to 1994. In order not to violate the law, many dyeing factories had to be closed or relocated away from Hong Kong.
A retrospect of the development of Hong Kong's dyeing industry in the post-war period. Before 1972, and before Chan Kin Keung joined the business, he said he only knew that Shanghai industrialists came to Hong Kong because of the political change in China. Their arrival contributed to the development of local textile industry as they founded spinners, weavers and knitters as well as dyeing factories. The factories were mostly located at Tsuen Wan, Kwai Tsung and Kwun Tong, etc. Between 1974 and 1975 dyeing industry was in a slump but it rebound quickly. During the early 1980s, dyeing industry was in its boom but not many people in the business paid much attention to environmental protection. There was ample supply of workers but the requirement on quality of the products was not that high. At that time, manpower was important for the business but luckily there were a lot of immigrants from China and they provided a cheap labour force. At the end of 1980s, the government started to implement sewage discharge policy. At the beginning dyeing factories tried hard to cope with. Until 1990s when the policy was in full fledged, a lot of dyeing factories either had to close or move to the mainland. Those that moved to China could not survive for long. There were only very few dyeing factories left within the pearl delta area.
After 1994, there were only a few smaller factories left in Hong Kong. At about the same time China Dyeing Works moved to Yuen Long Industrial Estate. It was one of the very few factories left in Hong Kong. Until 2002, the company was doing alright with its business. In recent years, oil prices continued to surge, pricing competitiveness continued to weaken and competition from surrounding countries posed imminent threat to local textile industry. Even garment factories could not survive in this weather. A lot of garment factories moved to countries with lower production cost, such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Hong Kong Polytechnics also stopped its training courses of textile. China Dyeing Works understood that it had to change its business approach in order to survive.For instance, it commissioned some production to other factories so as to decrease the production level of its Hong Kong factory and thus cut cost. The government did not support manufacturing industry. It did not provide any assistance to the factories to better handle sewage treatment. Fuel prices were not coping with the changing circumstances. Together with the policy of high land prices, these contributed to the decline of dyeing industry. During 2001 to 2002, China Dyeing Works went against the Department of Environmental Protection in court because the company was convinced that the Department had procedural problem with taking samples of sewage. Eventually the court ruled in favour of China Dyeing Works.

Company China Dyeing Holdings, Ltd.
Subject Industry
Duration 13m49s
Language Cantonese
Material Type
Source Hong Kong Memory Project Oral History Interview
Repository Hong Kong Memory Project
Note to Copyright Copyright owned by Hong Kong Memory Project
Accession No. AY-CKK-SEG-006
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