Queer inclusion: Business not as usual

The photograph shows a panel discussion in progress at the launch of a set of five standards to support corporate bodies in preventing discrimination against queer people in the workplace and beyond. The standards have been developed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The event took place at the Godrej global headquarters in Mumbai on October 12, 2017. The document on the standards was titled ‘Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People: Standards of Conduct for Business’, and was launched by Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The panel discussion preceded the launch and featured Radhika Piramal, Managing Director, VIP Industries Limited; Nandita Das, Actor and Filmmaker; Gauri Sawant, Transgender Activist; Meenakshi Ganguly, Director South Asia, Human Rights Watch; and Keshav Suri, Executive Director, Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. The panel was moderated by Salil Tripathi, Senior Adviser, Global Issues, Institute for Human Rights and Business, London. Photo courtesy: Communication Design Team, GCPL.

Happenings, Oct '17
The business world in India has an opportunity to adopt a benchmark to prevent discrimination against queer people in the workplace and beyond. Pawan Dhall reports on the launch of a set of standards developed by the United Nations

Mumbai, October 12, 2017: Godrej One, global headquarters of the Godrej Group, today hosted the launch of a set of five standards developed by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to support corporate bodies in preventing discrimination against queer people.

The document was introduced and launched by Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The launch was preceded by a panel discussion featuring Radhika Piramal, Managing Director, VIP Industries Limited; Nandita Das, Actor and Filmmaker; Gauri Sawant, Transgender Activist; Meenakshi Ganguly, Director South Asia, Human Rights Watch; and Keshav Suri, Executive Director, Lalit Suri Hospitality Group. The panel was moderated by Salil Tripathi, Senior Adviser, Global Issues, Institute for Human Rights and Business, London (see photograph above and inset).

Inset: Twitter speak at the launch event: Fabrice Houdart: “The amazing Keshav Suri of The Lalit Group says it best ‘The Time Has Come for India’ – launch of #BIZ4LGBTI standards 4 business.” Sushma Sonty: “A truly inclusive workplace is where ppl feel safe & respected & can bring themselves to work without hiding parts of their identity.” Pawan Dhall quoting Radhika Piramal and Nandita Das: “Queer inclusion in business has to be part of larger inclusion across different marginalizations.” Pawan Dhall: “Queer but relevant audience question @ #BIZ4LGBTI: How to make sure businesses don't get away with pink washing in the name of queer rights?” Parmesh Shahani: “What a day! Thanks to all that came for our #BIZ4LGBTI event today at Godrej Group. Let's create a more equal world together.”

Excerpts follow from the document titled Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People: Standards of Conduct for Business.

Introduction: The United Nations Human Rights Office has developed five Standards of Conduct to support the business community in tackling discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people. The Standards, produced in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights and Business, build on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and reflect the input of hundreds of companies across diverse sectors.

The Challenge: The past decade has seen important progress in many parts of the world in the lives of LGBTI people who have benefited from legal reforms and, in some cases, shifts in social attitudes. But such progress has been uneven. In most countries, protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is inadequate at best. Even in countries that have made significant strides, LGBTI people can face high hurdles, with studies suggesting that they are more likely than the general population to be bullied at school, treated unfairly at work, and denied access to basic services.

Why Standards of Conduct?

In 2000, the United Nations launched the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council endorsed a set of guiding principles on business and human rights that affirm that every business has a responsibility to respect human rights, and address any adverse human rights impacts of their operations.

Companies have important opportunities to foster diversity and promote a culture of respect and equality. Many firms have also found that doing so brings economic benefits — helping attract and retain talent, improving decisions and building loyalty with customers and investors alike.

Awareness of the role that business can play is growing, and many companies have already taken steps to translate a commitment to LGBTI inclusion into action. Even so, most are just beginning to grapple with these issues, and accumulated knowledge and best practices remain thin.

The Standards of Conduct are intended to help accelerate the pace of change. They set out the steps companies can and should take to ensure equal treatment at work and tackle discrimination in the broader community.

What Use for the Standards?

The United Nations Human Rights Office encourages:

Companies to endorse, use, and refer to these Standards and promote their use by others;

Civil society and other stakeholders to use the Standards as a tool in assessing and reporting on companies’ commitments, policies, and practices.

This graphic summarizes the essence of the five broad Standards of Conduct. First, companies should at all times respect human rights – this is their responsibility and they should make use of opportunities to define and reflect values of respect for rights through their policies and systems. Second and third, in the workplace (which includes staff and trade unions), they should eliminate discrimination and provide support to queer employees. Fourth, there is the sphere of marketplace (shareholders, suppliers and customers), and companies should work to prevent human rights violations here as well. Fifth, in the larger community or public sphere (which also includes the government and lawmakers) they should act in consultation with local communities on what steps to take to protect the rights of queer people. Graphic is part of the document on Standards of Conduct.

What Do the Standards Say?

At All Times

1 RESPECT HUMAN RIGHTS. Businesses should develop policies, exercise due diligence, and remediate adverse impacts to ensure they respect human rights of LGBTI people. Businesses should also establish mechanisms to monitor and communicate about their compliance with human rights standards.

In the Workplace

2 ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATION. Businesses should ensure that there is no discrimination in their recruitment, employment, working conditions, benefits, respect for privacy, or treatment of harassment.

3 PROVIDE SUPPORT. Businesses should provide a positive, affirmative environment so that LGBTI employees can work with dignity and without stigma.

In the Marketplace

4 PREVENT OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. Businesses should not discriminate against LGBTI suppliers, distributors or customers, and should use their leverage to prevent discrimination and related abuses by their business partners.

In the Community

5 ACT IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE. Businesses are encouraged to contribute to stopping human rights abuses in the countries in which they operate. In doing so, they should consult with local communities to identify steps they might take — including public advocacy, collective action, social dialogue, support for LGBTI organizations, and challenging abusive government actions.

The full document on the Standards of Conduct can be accessed here.

About the main photo: Panel discussion in progress during the launch event – from left to right: Salil Tripathi, Keshav Suri, Meenakshi Ganguly, Gauri Sawant, Nandita Das and Radhika Piramal. Photo courtesy: Communication Design Team, GCPL.

Author Photo

Pawan Dhall

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

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