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Tackling Discrimination against LGBTI People: Standards of Conduct for Business

 Remarks by High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
New York, 26 September 2017

Thank you, John, for hosting today’s event and for Microsoft’s very welcome financial support to the UN Human Rights Office.

I am delighted that we are joined today by activist and supermodel Geena Rocero. In 2014, Geena bravely came out as trans in a TED Talk. She founded Gender Proud to help change people’s perceptions of the trans community. Her story, and those s collected by Gender Proud and others, are crucial because they are stories we refused to hear for far too long.

Stories of suffering, but which are also testimony to the richness of energy, talent and expertise of trans people – as well as lesbian, gay, bi and intersex people. As with any cause, invisibility is the first enemy. Once people show their faces, raise their voices and tell their stories, change surely follows.

I am also honoured to have with us Sander van't Noordende, CEO of Accenture Products and a passionate advocate for the LGBT community at Accenture and beyond. Sander was with me at Davos for a panel discussion that led to the development of the Standards we are launching today.

Geena, John, Sander and I share the conviction that the struggle for acceptance and equality for LGBT and intersex people is one we have a chance to win in our lifetime. In saying that, I don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge. As studies by my Office show, violence and discrimination remain widespread – and in some countries they are endorsed by the State. But the positive changes we have seen in many parts of the world over the past two decades teach us what can be achieved if we work together.

The UN was created by States and discussion tends to be dominated by governments. But we know from experience that social change requires the active involvement of all parts of society – including, critically, business. The decisions companies take – whether in respect of human resources, investment, supply chains or marketing – can have a real and far-reaching impact on the human rights of millions of people.

Last year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, I announced that my Office would work with corporate partners and with civil society to develop guidance for business on the steps companies can and should take to tackle discrimination and other human rights violations against LGBTI people globally.

I am glad to tell you that we kept that promise. Over the past year, in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights and Business, we consulted hundreds of corporate leaders and activists, gathering examples of good practice. The document before you distills what we learned. Building on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, we set out five core steps that every company should take to tackle discrimination in the workplace, in the marketplace and in the community.

In broad brush, they are:

  • RESPECT the rights of LGBTI people in the way you run your business – setting up effective policies, deploying due diligence and putting in place effective grievance mechanisms;
  • ELIMINATE discrimination against LGBTI employees in the workplace – sensitizing staff and managers, equalizing benefits, and eliminating discrimination from hiring and workplace practices;
  • SUPPORT your LGBTI employees at work – by creating an affirming, inclusive environment for LGBTI employees, and supporting LGBTI staff groups;
  • PREVENT discrimination and related violations against LGBTI suppliers, distributors or customers – and using leverage to insist that business partners take the same approach;  
  • ACT in the public sphere – by standing up for LGBTI people in all the countries where you do business.

That last standard – which calls for companies to become active promoters of social change – is perhaps the most ambitious. It will inevitably mean different things in different circumstances – from challenging discriminatory Government actions, to public advocacy; support for community groups; and sponsorship of cultural events. In any scenario, consultation with local LGBTI organizations is critical.

Happily, there is growing evidence that, besides being the right thing to do, standing up for equal rights for LGBTI people is also be in the private sector’s commercial interest. Discrimination against any group slows us all down. Eliminating discrimination is the key to unlocking talent and maximizing productivity – and development.

The Standards provide a roadmap. But they will only have an impact if companies apply them. That is where you come in. I want to ask for your help in translating this guidance into action. Take this document with you and share it with your coworkers. Talk about the need for business engagement when you meet people in other companies.  Post about it on social media. Help spread the news about a better way of doing business, and for business as a force for good in the world.

I am immensely proud of the work we have done together to get this far – and of the list of companies that have already announced they will support and apply these Standards, including Accenture, Baker McKenzie, BNP Paribas, The Coca-Cola Company, Deutsche Bank, EDF, EY, Gap Inc., Godrej, IKEA Group, Microsoft, Oath, Orange, SAP, and Spotify. Thanks to them – our early adopters – and thanks to all of you for being here today.

ENDS