On a recent flight to Hong Kong, I watched the movie Roman J. Israel, Esq.(2017) and the week before watched Dallas Buyers Club (2013). Both movies have the central theme of justice. Where Denzel Washington’s character is struggling to stay idealistic and do what’s right, Ron Woodroof, as played by Matthew McConaughey, transforms from a homophobic, straight rodeo rider to having a transgender person as his best friend and to being a much more inclusive human being. My eyes got watery during the crucial moments for each of these characters.
With these movies in the back of my mind, I had the pleasure of participating in the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ conference hosted by The Economist Events with the support of the UNDP Being LGBTI in Asia programme in late May 2018. This global conference brought together over 200 business, government and civil society leaders to talk about advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the workplace. When listening to all the presentations, stories and ideas at Pride and Prejudice, it was clear that ‘justice’ was again a theme running throughout. Justice is of course also a theme central to the founding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and one that I hope is important in many people’s lives. I’m trying to keep it central to my own.
While there has been recent progress on supporting LGBTI inclusion in the Asia-Pacific region, new data shows high levels of discrimination continue. According to a new study implemented by UNDP and ILO, high levels of LGBTI people — 21 percent of respondents in China, 30 percent in the Philippines and 23 percent in Thailand — reported being harassed, bullied or discriminated against by others while at work because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and sex characteristics.
The evidence from this study indicated that the few workplaces that have LGBTI-inclusive policies have seen positive impacts. The study went on to show that the higher number of protective policies correlates with less experience of workplace discrimination and higher levels of reported job satisfaction among LGBTI people. During the Pride and Prejudice conference in Hong Kong, representatives from Citibank, Morgan Stanley, ABN AMRO and Japan Airlines provided very good examples LGBT-inclusive corporate policies and ones that can be replicated in other companies or organizations.
I had the privilege to speak on the policy and progress panel alongside Hong Kong’s first openly gay legislator, Raymond Chan; the first transgender member of congress in the Philippines, Geraldine Roman; the Mayor of Takarazuka, Japan, Tomoko Nakagawa; and the Director of the International Human Rights Division at the Ministry of Justice of Thailand, Nareeluc Pairchaiyapoom. All panelists noted that while there has been some progress on national and local policy processes, we still need to work with the private sector and civil society to help change social attitudes of the general public.
The message I delivered was clear. Discrimination and exclusion of LGBTI people cannot be addressed by governments and civil society alone. The private sector has a critical role. Businesses can promote diversity and inclusion, and promote a culture of respect and equality both in the workplace and in the societies where they and their business partners operate.
Also, it makes good business sense to promote a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTI people. It attracts and retains talent of people who are LGBTI, and it is enhances the reputation of the company as good employer.
The UN fully supports an agenda for justice for all people, including people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sexual characteristics. This is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the previous statements by our Secretaries-General and Commissioners for Human Rights and specific documents such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011), and the recently released Standard of Conduct for Business for tackling discrimination against LGBTI people.
The private sector has both a responsibility to respect human rights and tremendous economic power and influence to bring about positive change. As Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “If we are to achieve faster global progress towards equality for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex people, businesses will not only have to meet their human rights responsibilities, they must become active agents of change.”
Achieving decent work for all is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and an important component of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which has at its core the principle of equality and non-discrimination. UNDP is calling on companies all over the world — big and small, multinational and local — to help move the dial in the direction of greater inclusion for LGBTI people. We believe that companies have a leadership role to play in changing mindsets and creating a safer and more open environment for LGBTI individuals in the region and beyond, and it makes good business sense to do so.