Blood donation is usually recognized as a good thing, but it could be seen as ugly if a company pays its staff to give blood, not for the Red Cross but for its own medical research.

A Hong Kong-listed company has made headlines for doing just that.

In a circular, China Regenerative Medicine International (CRMI) called on its more than 500 staff in Greater China, including those who work in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, for voluntary blood donations to facilitate scientific tests for its cell-storage business.

In return, donors will get a HK$200 (US$25.60) nutritional subsidy and a day off, possibly as compensation for the slightly painful exercise. There will be further announcements of future donation opportunities later.

The growth-enterprise company, which boasted the world’s first launch of a bio-engineered cornea called “Acornea” and the only tissue-engineered skin developed in mainland China, “ActivSkin”, said it was not buying blood from staff but simply offering them the opportunity to  donate voluntarily. It is not a “commercial deal”, because even the Red Cross offers little gifts to its donors to show its appreciation.

It is quite common for corporates to ask staff to support their  employers by buying their products. For example, a mobile operator may ask its staff to subscribe for the latest handset – often with a discount – to show their loyalty. Still, asking staff to donate something from their bodies is not so common.

Also, it is questionable how “voluntary” this is now that a general request has been made by the company in black and white. In other words, it could be quite difficult for staff to turn down the company’s request.

In that regard, Hong Kong Labour Party vice-chairman Lee Cheuk-yan compared  CRMI to a vampire.

CRMI is a loss-making biotech company. Its subsidiary BioCell, a recognized GMP (guaranteed maximum price) contract manufacturer in the Asia-Pacific region for cell therapy, collects and manages umbilical-cord blood, and undertakes cryopreservation and cell delivery. Its other arm, HKIRC, is a high-end anti-aging and health-management service focusing on internationally advanced cell-regeneration diagnosis and treatment.

On August 27, CRMI chief executive officer Cui Xuefeng hosted a visit by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to its subsidiary Tianjin Weikai Bioeng, an enterprise incubated by the Tianjin International Joint Academy of Biomedicine.

CRMI said it had communicated with Lam about innovation and technology cooperation in the field of biomedicine between Hong Kong and mainland China.

No blood was taken during Lam’s visit, we presume.