UN Human Rights Office unveils global LGBTI standards for business

Pic: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has launched an unprecedented set of global standards to support the business community in tackling discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex people.

Among companies that have already indicated their support are Accenture, Baker McKenzie, BNP Paribas, The Coca-Cola Company, Deutsche Bank, EDF, EY, Gap Inc., Godrej, IKEA Group, Microsoft, Oath, Orange, SAP, and Spotify.

Addressing an audience of business leaders, activists and journalists at Microsoft’s New York City headquarters on 26 September, Zeid (pictured) called on the private sector to play its part in promoting LGBTI inclusion in the workplace and beyond.

“Social change requires the active involvement of all parts of society – including, critically, the business community,” he said. “The decisions that companies take – whether in respect of human resources, investment, supply chains, even marketing – can have a real and, in some cases, profound impact on human rights.”

Drawing on good practice from around the world, the new standards set out actions companies can take to protect the rights of LGBTI individuals. These include:

  • 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.

These include eliminating workplace discrimination, making sure business operations do not contribute to discrimination against customers, suppliers or members of the public, and working with business partners to address discriminatory practices up and down the supply chain.

They also encourage companies to stand up for the rights of LGBTI people in the countries where they operate – including through advocacy and support for local organisations.

“There is growing evidence that, besides being the right thing to do, standing up for equal rights for LGBTI people is also in the private sector’s commercial interest,” the High Commissioner noted. “Excluding any group slows us all down. Eliminating discrimination is the key to unlocking talent and maximising productivity.”

Welcoming the standards, Microsoft President Brad Smith said: “While important strides have been made to advance LGBTI rights, there are still gaps. Corporate standards, set by the private sector, can help companies articulate their values and stand up for the rights of LGBTI individuals in the workplace and communities in which they do business.”

Also speaking at the launch, Accenture Products chief executive Sander van’t Noordende added: “These standards will be vital for companies that understand the importance of an inclusive workplace, marketplace and community and want to know how to make a start. I hope they will make it possible for more people to bring their authentic selves to work.”

The Standards of Conduct are the product of a year-long process of consultations facilitated by the UN Human Rights Office and the Institute for Human Rights and Business, including regional meetings with leading business representatives in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

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