A corporate lens on the proposed Asian Development Bank (ADB) Gender and SOGI Safeguard

As illustrated in the United Nations LGBTQ+ Corporate Standards and Women’s Empowerment Principles, both derived from the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights, companies have clear responsibilities for the human rights of women and LGBTQ+ people.

On the other hand, development institutions are increasingly promoting private sector development, including direct support. The Private Sector Operations Department (PSOD) of the ADB manages a portfolio of about US$14 billion [1]. This is good policy as companies play a crucial role in people’s lives as providers of income, jobs, and products to enhance people’s lives, help them escape poverty, and achieve human dignity.

Independently, the private sector is increasingly focusing on sustainability, including social issues. The Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) focus is gaining traction with a renewed social and governance lens, including women and LGBTQ+ inclusion.

Yet, the development process in Asia is often letting women and LGBTQ+ people behind. An egregious example is Singapore. Before the World Bank’s Index was eliminated, Singapore received the second position in the ‘2020 Ease of Doing Business Report’ as the most productive regulatory environment for doing business worldwide despite criminalizing same-sex relationships[2]. Similarly, in Indonesia, LGBTQ+ people are experiencing development in reverse gear: the focus on employment for marginalized sexual minorities (e.g., “Waria”) of the PNPM Peduli development project[3] could not take place in today’s context. 

Unfortunately, Singapore and Indonesia are not outliers in the region. China has been clamping down on LGBTQ+ civil society organizing, and even Japan remains the only G-7 country without country-wide civil unions. Companies in Asia often underperform on inclusion[4].

On the other hand, companies can play an important role when development is more inclusive. Godrej (India) and Portico Media (Taiwan) are excellent examples.

We have been championing (alongside multiple partners such as the Council for Global Equality (CGE), the Human Rights Campaign, and the Bank Information Center (BIC)) for the Asian Development Bank to establish a stand-alone standard on gender equality that explicitly includes protections for people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Policies for inclusive development are essential for our time.

[1] April 2021, Asian Development Bank Private Sector Operations

[2] September 24, 2021 – The OTHER issue with Doing Business and other business rankings, How can a country’s business climate be sustainable if it excludes 7% of its population?

[3] 2016, Understanding social exclusion in Indonesia, Australian Government /Program Peduli

[4] June 8, 2021 – LGBTQ+ Inclusion: Gauging Progress in the Workplace, A study by AXA Asia

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