For global corporations, promoting lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) inclusion can sometimes seem a difficult balancing act. They must reconcile corporate accountability; pressures from employees and shareholders; business objectives and avoiding antagonizing governments and customers in emerging markets where homophobia is widespread.
While it is now widely accepted that discrimination against LGBT persons is a significant self-inflicted economic wound (watch UN Free and Equal video: The Price of Exclusion), relatively few global corporations have taken a stance on the issue. Two years ago, Jim Kim, the World Bank President wrote: “The bottom line is clear: Eliminating discrimination is not only the right thing to do; it’s also critical to ensure that we have sustained, balanced and inclusive economic growth in all societies.”Recent studies have indeed shown that anti-LGBT laws get in the way of foreign direct investment (FDI), private sector development and LGBT people’s entrepreneurialism. Other studies have provided estimates of the toll of discrimination against LGBT people on economies (e.g. in Jamaica, India).
Paradoxically, some emerging economies that need to attract FDI and nurture private investments in order to tackle slowing growth rates and rising unemployment are actively seeking to restrict the rights of members of the LGBT community and experience an explosion of anti-gay rhetoric. For example, Egypt has recently seen a wave of arrests for consensual same-sex sexual activity, while the Kyrgyz parliament is considering an “anti-gay propaganda bill” modelled on similar legislation adopted in Russia. There is a clear inconsistency when Tunisia holds an“Invest in Tunisia: Start-up Democracy” conference while a Tunisian court sentences a 22 year-old man to a year behind bars after an archaic anal exam purported to ‘prove’ that he had engaged in anal sex. Private investors do not attempt to reconcile these mixed messages; they just switch to a less erratic business environment.