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Making MNCs Respect LGBTI Rights

It might look good when a multinational company’s New York, London, or Paris headquarters signs onto an initiative like the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, announced at the last WEF conference in Davos. But unless companies can enforce LGBTI rights at all levels of their business, support at the top can mean nothing.

LONDON – Last January, at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, the WEF, the United Nations, and leading multinational companies announced a new initiative to promote inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. It is a welcome step. But how will it work in countries where it is still socially unacceptable, or even illegal, to be gay?

The new initiative, called the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, aims to help companies assess their own compliance with the UN’s LGBTI Standards of Conduct, in order to accelerate progress toward LGBTI equality within their global workforces. But this approach overestimates global companies’ capacity to self-regulate across all levels of their businesses.

As it stands, businesses tend to hold branches in LGBTI-hostile countries – such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Russia – to lower standards than branches in countries where LGBTI people’s human rights are respected. For example, the world’s four largest accounting firms – Ernst & Young (EY), Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and Deloitte – have some of the most progressive LGBTI policies of any workplace worldwide. But in Nigeria, they maintain a policy of silence and feigned ignorance regarding LGBTI rights.

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