The world's biggest risks

Ebola, Hong Kong weigh as risks to business rise

The risk of civil unrest disrupting business has risen in one-fifth of the world over the last quarter, with Hong Kong and Ebola-struck Liberia leading the way, according to a new report.

Mass demonstrations, labor protests and ethnic or religious violence have boosted risk in multiple countries, risk consultancy Maplecroft said in its Civil Unrest Index—a quarterly ranking of 197 countries.

Hong Kong posted the biggest deterioration in civil stability due to the mass protests of recent days. The Chinese-administered territory has been rocked by massive street protests against Beijing's tight restrictions on the elections of its next leader, due in 2017.

Maplecroft upped Hong Kong's risk rating to "high" from "medium", and noted that the Chinese government's response to the protests would be crucial in determining whether the situation deteriorated further.

"Even if the current round of protests loses momentum, without concessions to improve the level of democratic accountability… the potential for further civil unrest in Hong Kong will persist, and will likely intensify further in the run-up to the 2017 elections," said the report's authors.

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Aside from Hong Kong, Liberia also had its risk rating raised to "high" from "medium", following the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The impoverished West African country has suffered violent protests in the wake of the Ebola epidemic, which has claimed around 739 lives in the country to date, according to the World Health Organization.

One example of extreme violence occurred in August, when four people were injured after police fired live rounds and tear gas at those protesting against a quarantine aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly virus.

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Maplecroft also upped its risk ratings on Guinea and Sierra Leone—the two other countries worst hit by Ebola. Around 2069 people have died of the virus in Guinea and 623 in Sierra Leone.

"Companies operating in parts of West Africa must not only contend with the direct impact of the Ebola outbreak, but also the operational and logistical challenges created by the heightened potential for incidents of civil unrest," said Maplecroft.

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Charlotte Ingham, principal analyst at Maplecroft, said that monitoring countries with rising levels of unrest should be a "top priority" for business.

"Civil unrest can create significant risks to operations and supply chains and impact the safety of employees and company property," she said in a statement.

Beyond the Hong Kong demonstrations and Ebola, other key drivers of the rising instability included protests in response to the Israeli military operation in Gaza in July and August, and unrest following Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.

Other research bodies have also warned that the world is becoming less stable. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, the security situation has deteriorated in 111 countries in the last six years, and improved in only 51.

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