Launch of United Nations Guiding Principles on LGBT+ Inclusion in Business
Hundreds of senior business leaders gathered at the fifth annual Out Leadership: Asia 2017 LBGT+ Senior Summit, hosted by for the first time in partnership by KPMG, HSBC, and Thomson Reuters.
KPMG, HSBC, and Thomson Reuters also committed to co-sponsor the Out Leadership Summit in Asia for 3 years, working together to build an enduring alliance to drive change in the region. Summit participants enjoyed increased opportunities to learn and participate in a regional dialogue about corporates’ investment in LGBT+ inclusion across the three business-focused Summit sessions, including a conversation between the three CEO Summit hosts, a discussion of the way LGBT+ inclusion impacts risk assessments in the financial services industry, and the launch in Hong Kong of the United Nations business standards for LGBT+ inclusion.
In keynote remarks, Gigi Chao, Executive Vice-Chairman, Cheuk Nang (Holdings) Ltd, argued that Hong Kong’s government is lagging behind global institutions when it comes to LGBT+ inclusion: “The UN guiding principles are a momentous step toward equality. Businesses need to create a safe space for workers to thrive and be their full selves. It works best if it comes from the highest levels, so attitudes can cascade down and be embraced throughout organizations. It is also important to express again and again, and make it clear, that LGBT+ rights are based in universal human rights, and that neither Hong Kong nor any other jurisdiction ought to be allowed to hide behind the excuse of a discriminatory culture.”
Cynthia Veliko, Regional Representative, UN Human Rights Office, UN Bangkok, presented the standards by noting business’ unique position when it comes to governmental action on LGBT+ rights: “When it comes to opposing detrimental legal changes, the private sector has a crucial role to play. The business and economic case for inclusion bolsters the human rights case. Discrimination, including against LGBTI people, affects productivity and undermines social and economic development with negative consequences for both companies and communities. It can also lead to a loss of market share. Many studies, including those from Harvard Business Review, have demonstrated that diversity and inclusion are actually associated with stronger business performance. But what companies say and promise can also ultimately be quite incongruent with corporate action. This is where the UN standards of conduct on tackling discrimination against LGBTI people come in.”
Sarah Bower, Chief Legal Counsel China, Head of Regulatory, KPMG, illustrated the challenge global businesses can face in ensuring that inclusive global policies are applied consistently across markets. “We have this dichotomy of the Hong Kong office and our other 16 offices that are part of the KPMG China organization. The other offices can be more sensitive around some issues, but we are one firm, we’re the China firm. And we’ve found a lot of success with creating visibility around allyship. Our ally program creates a safes space for people to get involved and be supportive without necessarily taking any big steps in terms of how they identify at first.”
“I think we all need to challenge ourselves: what more can we do?,” argued Steven Chan, Managing Director, Regional Head of Regulatory, Industry, and Government Affairs, State Street. “Those of us who represent the big, multinational companies, places that are already pretty much following these standards with regard to our internal policies – we also have to look at ourselves. This year, the Hong Kong EOC came up with a statement to encourage the government to write anti-discrimination legislation. Some of the major multinationals taking part in this Summit didn’t sign. And we have to ask, why is that, and how do we create more collective participation in those sorts of actions?”
“The UN guiding principles are a great baseline”, said Paul Choi, the chair of Goldman Sachs’ Asia Pacific LGBT Network Council. “But in Hong Kong, some business organizations tend to acknowledge such principles without actively doing anything to embrace them. The business community has a voice in Hong Kong and when we work together, we make much more impact. While it’s important to talk about LGBT inclusion, it’s much better to take concrete action. For example, some financial institutions including Goldman Sachs have urged the Hong Kong government to establish LGBT anti-discrimination laws, and applied to intervene in a court case related to LGBT inclusion. The broader business community needs to be more vocal.”