Billionaire Richard Branson has urged businesses to use their influence to push for LGBTI rights in countries they conduct business with.
In a blog post, the founder of the Virgin Group said he wanted to see businesses ‘shift the conversation [on LGBTI rights] on a global scale’.
His comments were in reference to controversial laws implemented in Brunei which target gay people. The country’s Sharia Penal Code (SPC) punishes male homosexual sex with death by stoning.
Brunei experienced widespread condemnation over the SPC. There have been renewed calls for businesses to exert pressure or cut ties with the tiny oil-rich nation due to the country’s adoption of the laws.
Branson has also joined 20 other business leaders who have put their names to a pro-LGBTI rights initiative. The initiative is supported by Open For Business, a coalition of global businesses which promote LGBTI rights.
‘Scores of countries continue to marginalise, criminalise and persecute LGBT+ populations’
In his blog post, the Branson wrote that while Brunei is an extreme case, headline-grabbing case, numerous other countries also continue to maintain anti-LGBTI laws with far less scrutiny.
‘[The] debate about Brunei also raises the question of priorities,’ Branson wrote. ‘Scores of countries continue to marginalise, criminalise and persecute LGBT+ populations. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have executed gay people in recent years, whilst Brunei has not seen any executions since the 1950s. Why take action now?
‘The answer is simple. I feel that every opportunity to stand up for what we believe in is a good opportunity to shift the conversation on a global scale.’
The initiative supported by Branson and 20 fellow business executives calls for inclusive workplaces, actively support criminalized LGBTI communities and engage with anti-LGBTI regimes, Reuters reports.
‘It is time for all of us, as business leaders and as human beings, to stand up to ensure that people are free from the fear of abuse for who they love,’ the initiative states.
‘This is our responsibility to our employees, to our customers and to communities all over the world.’
Scrutiny over support for LGBTI rights
Since Brunei implemented the SPC, there has been increasing scrutiny of LGBTI-supporting businesses which have financial ties to the country.
It has raised the questions as to whether many businesses’ financial interests trump their support for LGBTI rights.
In late March, Gay Star News broke the news that Brunei, a tiny nation in Southeast Asian, was preparing to quietly rush through the final stages of the extreme SPC.
The news was met with a global outcry. Numerous political bodies, human rights groups and public figures urged Brunei to halt the SPC’s implementation.
Despite this, the country went ahead with the implementation of the SPC as scheduled.
A number of celebrities, including George Clooney, Elton John, and Ellen DeGeneres, supported a boycott of Brunei-linked hotels.
A growing number of banks, including JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, and Nomura, have banned staff from using Brunei-owned hotels.
Energy firm Royal Dutch Shell – which has extensive business interests in oil-rich Brunei – also came under scrutiny about its support for LGBTI rights. The company’s shareholders recently raised concerns about how the SPC laws would affect Shell’s LGBTI employees who are based in Brunei.