We’re #Openforbusiness

By Awo Ablo

Awo Ablo, Director of External Relations at the Alliance secretariat reflects on the genesis of a new coalition of global businesses who are concerned about the economic impact of LGBT discrimination.

It’s almost two years since the Winter Olympics town of Sochi hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, becoming synonymous with anti-LGBT legislation in Russia.

Now, I don’t really follow winter sports, not too many Ghanaians made it to Sochi, but if there is a legacy from the games that resonates with me, Open for Business  is it. The launch of this report means that, from today, it is possible to show that discrimination comes with a cost. And that an economic and business case can be made against laws that discriminate against people for their sexual orientation.

Banner for Open for Business Coalition.Back in early 2012, fed up with the situation in Russia and with rumours spreading of plans for anti-homosexual laws in Uganda, I rang Jon Miller, a contact at Brunswick Group, the global PR and public affairs agency. He’d just returned from Davos where CEOs, presidents and politicians network to ‘fix the world’. Whilst there he had heard from companies involved with Sochi who were worried about the effect of rising homophobia on their reputations.

Open for Business, a coalition of 14 global companies, is the outcome of that call. And the report accompanying the coalition’s launch ‘Open For Business: the economic and business case for global LGB&T inclusion’ sets out some stark facts about the economic and business impact of LGBT discrimination.

The public takes an increasingly dim view of policies that marginalise LGBT people.  Among the report’s findings is an opinion survey in the US and UK finding that:

  • Nearly half (47%) would support a boycott of companies working in countries that have anti-gay laws;
  • More than half (52.5%) said they would be unlikely to support international development aid going to a country that has anti-gay laws; and
  • More than half (51%) would be unlikely to go on holiday to a country that has anti-gay laws.

The coalition of companies behind the new initiative includes American Express, AT&T, Brunswick, Ernst & Young, Google, IBM, LinkedIn, Linklaters, MasterCard, McKinsey & Company, Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Chartered, Thomson Reuters and Virgin Group.  The purpose of Open for Business is to reframe the debate by making a positive business case for equality of opportunity for all. The more people who make a stand, the better. Big business on side is a great boost to our efforts. Money talks.

The report highlights the work of the Humsafar Trust in India, one of the Alliance’s Linking Organisations that’s called for stronger evidence showing that discrimination comes with a cost. The Alliance has worked with the coalition providing up-to-date information about the situation in countries, access to international LGBTI individuals and leaders, and on developments as they arise through our programmes supporting LGBTI groups on the ground.  We will continue as a member of the Open for Business Advisory Group and look forward to the growth of this initiative in the coming weeks and months.

So, thank you Sochi, the winter games may yet be remembered for helping usher in new attitudes to LGBTI rights, even if the sports stay an enigma for me!