Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Thank you, Anthony, for joining us and thanks to Baker McKenzie, which was one the very first supporters of these standards, and is kindly sponsoring tonight’s reception. Thank you Dawn and thank you ACON and Pride in Diversity for being such gracious hosts.
We have benefit of a wonderful backdrop to our meeting together, of course – the people of Australia just stood up decisively for universal human rights for all when to marriage equality they gave resounding endorsement. The rights and wrongs of such postal surveys aside, the “Yes” campaign secured a decisive win for compassion, decency and human rights.
The 844 corporate campaign-YES supporters – many of whom are with us this afternoon – exemplified how the Australian private sector can and should play a positive and engaging role for universal rights. The potential of such public leadership? That’s what brings us here: not only how unacceptable it is to be silent in the face of discrimination, cruel and inexcusable, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, but just how straightforward it is to stand up – influentially – against it. Just a spoonful of universal values, a pinch of personal responsibility and a shed load of willingness to act – to respect, protect, empower and support.
Eradicating discrimination might appear to be a complicated business – but, it ain’t, while standing up for equality – that’s just good business – simply the business of doing good.
The Australian Human Rights Commission tells us more than half of all transgender people and LGBTI youth have directly experienced abuse, including overt violence simply because of who they are; while almost half of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are so concerned about the likely negative consequences of their identities on their employment, they feel compelled to hide who they are.
For this, and for them, marriage equality is no answer. It’s just key. One key – helping unlock that heavy and distorting door that stands in the way of our path to the fuller realisation of human rights for all.
On that journey, marriage equality is a major step. But so many more steps are equally well overdue. Marriage equality doesn’t undo the myriad other forms that inequalities take. It doesn’t end the bullying. It doesn’t silence the name calling, or bottle down the behind-your-back sniggering. It doesn’t lower the fist, or end the exclusion, dismantle the bias, tear away toxicity, shore up acceptance or secure fair access to fair advance.
We invented this situation ourselves, of course – socially and culturally constructed and reconstructed a stratification of human beings into a perverse ranking according to synthetic typologies that are the fathers too of fear and fiction: gender, age, disability, the color of my skin, the sound of your language, how I worship, whom you love. Multiple forms of discrimination intertwine to bind the feet, gag the mouths and waste the talent of millions the world over.
Bitter is the fruit of these intersecting and diverse forms of discrimination. In conflict settings, and in peace time; in the context of migration and when at home, working for decent pay or labouring without just remuneration – in all settings, bigotry, xenophobia and discrimination are just repugnant.
Yet no child anywhere at any time ever emerged into this world with bigotries preordained, ready to go – pret a manger. Frankly, the human rights violations that drive vicious cycles of marginalization and exclusion have no place on a planet of peace and prosperity.
And in our interconnected, interdependent world, it is a fallacy that are walls, borders or fences that erode our obligations to each others’ rights. There is no wall so high, nor border so patrolled; no special identity nor personal privilege so rarefied; no surveillance system nor unmanned drone; no enmity so heartfelt nor friendship so rare, that, on this dormitory planet, can put between you and me such a distance that your rights do not count with me; that my rights do not matter to you; that their rights do not register with us. No such distance exists, except, that is, as is fabricated in fantasist, sinister, popularist ideologies whose nihilism feeds off and manufactures desperation, despair and disillusion.
Walls within the human family, on a small, distressed planet in a globalized world, home to the largest population of youngest people in all of human history? Walls are untruths. The world’s future will not become sustainable when its fruits are reserved for some and never enjoyed by all; when its social and economic systems reproduce societies stratified not by effort, contribution or creativity but by the dumb luck of where you are born, how you look, whom you identify as and whom you love.
And, how can it be that consenting sexual intimacy, personal regard and mutual affection should attract widespread contempt while bigotry, prejudice and cynical self-interest it seems can be elected even to the highest office in many lands? How come we are so reluctant to call out hate – in all its forms – and yet so ready to outlaw love?
Laws in twenty countries across Asia-Pacific (12 in Asia, eight in the Pacific) still criminalize same sex couples: an attack on the fundamental rights of LGBTI people, those legal frameworks dehumanize, erode equality, foster fear and, incidentally, are just bad for business. That may be rule by law but it is not the rule of law – not when the foundational principle of equality before the law is violated. Identity cannot be rightly criminalized. Wrongful laws should be. And until then, they should be opposed.
Power comes in many varieties – the capacity to force people to do want they don’t want to; the ability to stop them doing what they want and the power to shape what they want and don’t want to do. The state has unique responsibilities for limited and legitimate exercise of the powers of enforcement and prevention but in regard to the third? The power to shape what we think we want, what we imagine we need? In the exercise of that particular power, the commercial sector has become omnipresent. Here lies the power of the market and there lies market shaping. Desire, longing and wish fulfilment – these are the engine rooms of the consumption choices on which so much of commerce depends.
Like all powers, the privileges of profit seeking come with responsibilities. Business can help make us hate each other, but must not. Business can leave contempt unchallenged but should not. Businesses should help make love matter more, but too many do not. The world suffers not merely by the actions of the bad but thanks also to the silence of the better. From these duties to resist hate, to reject intolerance and to promote mutual respect there is nowhere to hide.
As businesses and corporations, if ever – with respect to equality on sexual orientation and gender identity – we are silent, then let it be only because we are listening to LGBTI people themselves and preparing then, on that basis, to … stand up to speak out.
That’s the core and more messages of the UN Human Rights Office global standards of conduct for business we are presenting today. Designed to help companies the world claim, celebrate and contribute what they can, what they must offer to the tackling of discrimination against LGBTI people in the workplace and beyond. Building on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, founded on the fundamental truth that we all are born equal in dignity and rights – these standards are the product of more than a year of consultation with hundreds of businesses all over the world – big, small, local, multi-national.
Five small-to-take steps that mean – as individual employers, suppliers, retailers and corporate citizens – any company can take a giant step to help end discrimination and promote equality in the workplace, in the marketplace and in the broader community:
- RESPECT the rights of LGBTI people in the way you run your business – set up effective policies, deploy due diligence and put effective grievance mechanisms in place;
- ELIMINATE discrimination against LGBTI employees in the workplace – sensitize staff and managers, equalize benefits, and eliminate discrimination from hiring and workplace practices;
- SUPPORT your LGBTI employees at work – by create an affirming, inclusive environment for LGBTI employees, and supporte LGBTI staff groups;
- PREVENT discrimination and related violations against LGBTI suppliers, distributors or customers – and use leverage to insist that business partners uphold equality;
- ACT in the public domain – stand up for LGBTI people in all the countries everywhere you do business.
How this operates will vary, of course, depending on the context. But irrespective of local laws that may violate human rights or of local political dynamics that seek to spread bigotry further, in partnership with LGBTI people and civil society advocates – in every context, companies can and should stand up: take bold steps to shield LGBTI people from unfair treatment within the workplace and take courageous steps to promote their rights beyond the workplace.
Most recently Mastercard, Twitter, Ben & Jerry, Intel, Aviva, Adidas, Fidelity International, McKinsey, Ralph Lauren Corp., RELX Group, Westpac and Williams-Sonoma Inc., among others, have joined the early supporters of the Standards. That makes a total of 36 companies that expressed support since we first unveiled the Standards in New York at the end of September. Between them, these companies represent more than 3 million employees and a trillion U.S. dollars in revenues. There is as yet only one Australian company on the list – WESTPAC. Let’s swell those number now.
The rights of LGBTI people matter and not merely in the bedroom. Their rights like your rights are my rights – and our rights also pertain and persist from the courtroom to the boardroom to the workroom to the schoolroom to the bathroom and into the bedroom.
In an age of scarcity, at a time of austerity, if we are to want not, then we must waste not. We must not continue to waste precious human talent or erode essential human dignity – neither through bigotry nor exclusion; nor by neglect or design. Rights? Rights are for the best and worst of us, to the exclusion of none of us, for the sake of each of us and in the interests of all us.
 With credit to political philosopher, Stephen Lukes, who identified these three varieties but framed the third a little differently.