Header image for news printout

Remarks by United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour at the launch in Japan of Global Standards for Business on tackling LGBTI discrimination

5 June 2018, United Nations University, Tokyo

Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

The UN Human Rights Office is mandated to “promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights”.   A broad mandate to be sure, and in today’s world, not an easy one.  I normally speak to audiences on the current challenges to the human rights agenda, which are, I think, of unprecedented gravity, along with the threat to multilateralism and democracy from various quarters.  

But I am happy to be talking to you now about an altogether more uplifting subject, regarding the growing readiness of the business sector to stand up for people’s rights and prevent discrimination.

Our office has been engaging with the private sector to reiterate their responsibilities as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights published in 2011.

Building on this work, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights launched the Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business to guide companies on tackling discrimination faced by LGBTI people – first in New York in September 2017 and since then in other parts of the World - Australia, Kenya, Hong Kong, Thailand, Switzerland, Canada, UK and France.  But today’s event in Tokyo is particularly important to us, and I will shortly explain why.

We are particularly honored today to be in Tokyo in front of such distinguished speakers and guests, from the government, civil society organizations, private sector, law firms, and media. Thank you for being here today. Our special gratitude goes to Lawyers for LGBT & Allies Network (LLAN), the United Nations Information Centre in Tokyo and sponsors (Clifford Chance and EY Japan) for making this event possible. I am happy to see this packed room indicating interest in and concern on today’s topic, which, I appreciate, is not an easy one. 

Our role here today is to launch our corporate LGBTI Standards in Japan. My office is not trying to push a so-called “gay western agenda” as some opponents of human rights like to claim.  On the contrary, we are not trying to impose anything. What we do stand for is to oppose all forms of discrimination. whether based on race, gender, religion, ethnic minority or any other category and that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.  I want to reiterate that human rights in general is not a Western construct; rather it is a universally adopted framework with deep roots in many histories, cultures, and traditions including Japan.

As you know better than I do, the situation for LGBT people in Japan in and out of the workplace remains challenging. Japan has seen less progress in laws and in public attitudes than all the other G7 countries. Japan does not have protections from discrimination for LGBT people. Japan forces sterilization on transgender people as a requirement for legal recognition of their gender identity. Japan is also the only country in the G7 without any legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships. Attitudes towards LGBT people in various surveys show a low level of awareness of the life experience of LGBT people.

An increasing number of countries are following UN recommendations to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to protect intersex people, and we hope that Japan might soon join this list.

During my short stay here, I have also observed progress. The Japanese LGBT movement has gained momentum and let me here applaud the courageous activists who joined us today. The dream of a civil union in Japan has finally began to become a possibility. And Japan updated its national bullying prevention policy to protect sexual and gender minority students a year ago; a move in the right direction, in addition to further steps that are needed to protect the rights of transgender and intersex people in Japan.

We are convinced that the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics create a unique opportunity to improve the public conversation on these issues. They can in fact be a catalyst for change. Human rights issues faced by Japanese companies both at home and abroad have been attracting growing global attention in the lead up to the games. Lene Wendland, our Adviser on Business and Human Rights who is with us today, is meeting tomorrow with the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympics to discuss various human rights issues including the role of women, foreign workers and LGBTI people in Japan’s domestic labour market.

Let’s all aim high. There’s no reason why Corporate Japan shouldn’t become one of the best places in the world for LGBTI individuals by the time the Olympic torch reaches Tokyo in 2020. And if everyone can work together to make that happen, we are confident that the benefits will be felt widely as there is unmistakable evidence that inclusive companies and economies perform better - in other words, ethical considerations are not in conflict with commercial ones.  In fact, the opposite is true. 

The global standards of conduct for business that we are presenting today are intended to help companies here and overseas to meet their core human rights responsibilities and increase their role and impact in tackling discrimination against LGBTI people in the workplace and beyond.

They are the result of over a year of consultations with civil society organizations and hundreds of businesses – big, small, local, multinational – all over the world. Their premise is twofold. First, that all companies have a responsibility to respect everyone’s rights and to address discrimination, including as it affects LGBTI people. And, second, that companies have a good opportunity to use their market presence, their access, resources and influence to contribute to positive social change wherever they do business.

The role that companies can play – and the approaches that might be deployed – will vary depending on the social and legal context. But in all parts of the world, and irrespective of local laws and political dynamics, there are actions – five concrete actions clearly spelt out in the document - that companies can take both to shield LGBTI people from unfair treatment and challenge discriminatory practices both within and beyond the workplace. Through calibrated, concerted interventions, the corporate world can make a vital contribution to reducing stigma and prejudice directed at LGBTI people everywhere.

There are also risks associated to such interventions and these principles must be developed with a “do no harm” principle which is why it is important that this discussion takes place with LGBT civil society, which is also represented here today.

I am delighted to announce tonight that we have reached 140 early supporters of the Standards. Between them, those 140 companies represent more than 9 million employees.

I am delighted that yesterday it was announced that we are welcoming a Japanese information technology equipment and services multinational, Fujitsu, among these 140 companies; the first Japanese company to express support.  We hope it will be followed by many more. 

Many of you have expressed interest in learning about the Standards, which I am sure would require internal approvals. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our team with questions. I hope that our discussion here today will bring us one step closer to a world where LGBTI people can fully contribute to Japan’s future.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in my view the noblest document ever written.  But the concepts that underlie it are under threat, which is why we want to bring attention to it by commemorating it.  This launch of our LGBTI Business Standards is part of our approach - as I mentioned earlier, our goal is to end discrimination of whatever variety.  

Our slogan is “stand up for someone’s rights today”.  This is the heart of our message actually.  First of all, people need to stand up for their own rights, and to do that they need to learn what those rights actually are.  Even more important than that, however, is standing up for other people’s rights.  This is the motivating force for every major social improvement.  After all, slavery would never have been abolished if slaves alone had been horrified by it, and others hadn’t campaigned and fought to end it.  Torture wouldn’t have been internationally outlawed if torture victims alone had objected to that abominable practice.  Women won’t be properly empowered if men don’t join the struggle too (and I would say there’s a particular need for that here in Japan).  And LGBTI persons will never see an end to the discrimination that blights many of their lives if straight people don’t also take a stand for LGBTI rights.

Thank you very much for coming to our launch and to listening to us.