Last week during a reception held in the Treaty Room of the Department of State, I was proud to address a group of America’s leading corporations and encourage them to take steps to advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons around the world.
In the 21st century, promoting universal human rights and non-discrimination can’t be the job of governments alone. We need our business leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to lend their ideas, energy, and support.
Why? Advancing LGBT human rights isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. Corporations want to invest in countries that respect the rule of law and provide protections for their employees. They want to promote policies and work in environments that allow them to recruit the best and brightest and where their employees can bring their best to work every day. Laws that discriminate against LGBT persons and the businesses that support and employ them -- like the laws recently passed in Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia -- threaten the stability that businesses desire and risk the safety of their employees, and jeopardize productive economic relationships that can advance corporate interests around the world.
We know that many U.S. corporations are leaders here at home when it comes to advancing equality and non-discrimination for LGBT persons. And a number are already working overseas to advance LGBT rights. Corporations regularly engage with governments to express their concerns about what is good for business, and what isn’t; discussing regressive laws or discriminatory government policies is part of that conversation. Increasingly, corporations are publicizing their non-discrimination policies, training their supervisors and managers on the importance of equal treatment, and issuing joint non-discrimination statements. And finally, we know that corporate philanthropy plays an important role in redressing human rights violations and building societal acceptance for all through supporting of civil society organizations.
Through the Global Equality Fund, we are proud to partner with three corporate partners -- the M•A•C AIDS Fund, Deloitte LLP, and most recently, the Royal Bank of Canada. Launched in December 2011, the Global Equality Fund brings together nine like-minded governments, two foundations, corporations, and Out Leadership, to support programs that advance the human rights of LGBT persons. We are particularly grateful for Out Leadership’s role in partnering with the Department in convening the corporations who attended the event last week. Since the Fund was launched, we have provided over $9 million in assistance to civil society organizations in over 50 countries as they work to challenge discriminatory legislation, build respect and tolerance, and protect human rights defenders.
Since Secretary Kerry last chaired the Partners Committee of the Global Equality Fund in June, we are proud that the Fund has grown substantially. And I’m especially grateful that the Arcus Foundation has pledged to match all corporate contributions to the Fund up to $1 million before June 30. We hope other corporations will partner with us as we fulfill this matching challenge, which presents untold opportunities to invest in civil society and create environments that are more supportive of human rights and more attractive to business.
We can make dramatic changes in protecting human rights when we commit ourselves. At the State Department and at corporations around the world we are taking a strong stand against the discrimination, bigotry and injustice that hold societies back and prevent our businesses from moving forward. We hope to increase the number of corporations working with us to advance these important goals.
About the Author: Tom Malinowski serves as the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. Department of State.