The private sector is the bedrock of the modern global economy. So, when businesses take a firm stand on human rights and go beyond just lip service, people sit up and take notice.
Last month, in a ground-breaking victory for the LGBTI community in Asia, the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality, by reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a 158-year-old law that contains provisions criminalizing consensual gay sex. It was a unanimous decision of five judges. Revoking such laws is vitally important, since bad laws expose LGBTI people to violence, stigma and discrimination. However, it should be noted that decriminalization of homosexual activities is just the first step in real, practical changes for a better society. It needs to be accompanied by good policies and their implementation, and supportive social and cultural attitudes.
While this victory owes to the hard work of civil society organizations (CSOs) and individuals, advocacy for LGBTI rights requires collaboration from all parts of society. Private sector companies, which make up a huge part of economy, need to play an important and influential role too. We’d like to highlight three areas where the private sector can contribute to significantly improve LGBTI people’s lives: in the workplace, for their financial security and for their broader contribution and inclusion in society.
1. Corporate policies
Globally, it is being recognized more and more that diversity and inclusion are good for business. In 2017, the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) launched a set of Standards of Conduct for Business that offers guidance to companies on how to meet their responsibility to respect the rights of LGBTI people. Meeting these benchmarks means treating LGBTI people fairly in the workplace, as well as analysing business practices up and down the supply chain to ensure that discrimination is tackled at every turn. The standards advance the case for corporate engagement and highlight the many opportunities companies have to contribute to positive social change in the communities where they do business.
In fact, some industry leaders in the private sector are already implementing parts of the standards to help them develop inclusive and sustainable businesses and economic environments. For example, Open for Business, a coalition of 26 global companies supporting LGBTI inclusion, aims at promoting a positive business and economic case for equality of opportunity for everyone, all across the world.
2. Youth-led entrepreneurship
There are great new initiatives to promote entrepreneurship among youth, including LGBTI youth, with the hope they’ll be ready and able to enter the private sector, charging ahead with their youthful energy and new ideas.
Recent years have seen major disruptions in the job market in how we work and how we interact with the workplace. Young people are faced with the challenges of how to adapt to change and how to be relevant. They’re responding with innovative, tech-driven, human-centric approaches to help them create the world they want, while driving human development within themselves, and for their communities and societies.
Haoliang Xu, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific of UNDP, said at a regional forum in Beijing, “Young people are more connected, more creative, more informed and more persuasive than any previous generation.”
Regional programmes such as UNDP’s Youth Co:Lab help bring together youth entrepreneurs to propose their own socially responsible and sustainable business ideas, as well as connect them with partners from the private sector who can help them launch these ideas. Through these programmes, LGBTI youth are provided with the opportunity to translate their ideas into business solutions that are not only instrumental to their personal growth, but also beneficial to the wider LGBTI community.
In rural areas and developing countries, LGBTI people face a different problem in terms of employment and livelihood. Here, the economy is made up primarily of small and micro businesses. While the general population may also have limited access to credit-financing options, LGBTI individuals, especially those who were rejected by their family and live in destitution, typically encounter bigger obstacles to getting loans. They may not be able to find a guarantor (a family member or friends), have already accumulated too much debt, and/or cannot provide a guarantee, because of a lack of material assets.
Some CSOs have recently pioneered the provision of support for such individuals who wish to escape poverty through setting up a small business. Micro Rainbow International is one organization that helps provide financial resources to LGBTI people who are systematically excluded from accessing traditional financial services. They have initiated a series of activities in Cambodia, where they also provide training and opportunities for peer learning and support. The chance to start a business not only helps the person running the business but can improve the overall image of LGBTI people within a community – in other words, economic empowerment is instrumental to recognition and acceptance.
A recent report by UNDP and ILO, LGBTI People and Employment, described the many ways that LGBTI people experience discrimination in the workplace, from obstacles to being hired to bullying in the workplace, or feeling the need to hide their SOGI or intersex status. So the private sector is the main place where solutions to these challenges will be found.
Progress will have far-reaching consequences that go beyond the workplace. Attention to employment is part of the larger 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as access to work is deeply intertwined with socio-economic empowerment and the ability to participate in the public sphere. Addressing inequality in the workplace will help to achieve other Sustainable Development Goals including gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities throughout society.
We commend the members of the private sector who have joined the battle for LGBTI rights and inclusion, whether through work in any of the areas mentioned above, being examples of best practice, and through partnering with civil society, multilateral agencies and non-government organizations to take action to improve the situation for LGBTI people in employment settings and their communities.
About the author
Gigi Chao is the Executive Vice-Chairman of Cheuk Nang and Founder of the Faith in Love Foundation in Hong Kong
Edmund Settle is the Regional Policy Advisor on LGBTI inclusion for the United Nations Development Programme in Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok