Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights and address and remedy abuses they cause or contribute to under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner's office in its 2011 "Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework notes: These Guiding Principles are grounded in recognition of:
(a) States’ existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms; (b) The role of business enterprises as specialized organs of society performing specialized functions, required to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights;
(c) The need for rights and obligations to be matched to appropriate and effective remedies when breached.
Yet notwithstanding these principles corporations seem to ignore the fact that their existence and profits are made in countries where their operation contributes to the ongoing persecution of LGBTQI+ people.
There are over 70 countries which criminalize LGBTQI+ people in the world. My focus is on the 32 on the continent of Africa. These laws give license, not only to discriminate but also to perpetrate brutal violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, non-binary and queer people residing in those countries, by state and non-state actors.
Yet without comment, without payback, without remedy, without discussion, without connection to stakeholders, the following corporations continue to profit: NETFLIX, APPLE, GOOGLE, IBM, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, etc.etc.
Let us take Ghana for example. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, an openly gay man ought to be aware that the corporation he leads has a store in ACCRA, GHANA, where the most extreme and onerous anti-homosexuality legislation is currently being entertained by Parliament. Have we heard word from him or anyone representing APPLE?
Currently before Ghana's Constitutional Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee is one of the harshest anti-gay BILLS of all time. THE PROMOTION OF PROPER HUMAN SEXUAL RIGHTS AND GHANAIAN FAMILY VALUES BILL OF 2021. The title a red herring for pure punitive measure against LGBTQI+ people, their allies, and supporters.
It is never a good idea to withdraw business or boycott, as that will absolutely cause a backlash and have a detrimental impact on the very LGBTQI+ populations we are concerned about and who already suffer enough scapegoating. So what should these corporations be doing.
Firstly, Corporations should be caring enough to be pursuing what it is they ought to be doing. Secondly, they should ensure a depth of understanding of the environments where they operate, the impact of anti-LGBTQI laws on their own employees and communities. Thirdly, consult with those impacted and the stakeholder involved to formulate effective plans where they can be impactful and supportive, in non-colonizing fashion!
It is critical to be aware of the harms. Criminalizing laws lead to the following: Evictions, expulsions, banishment, firings, blackmail, extortion, disappearances, kidnappings, rape, corrective rape, assault, torture and murder. Thousands of Africans are thus forcibly displaced, fleeing their countries with few durable solutions. Yet these corporations turn a blind eye.
There are so many ways to be effective and to make a difference. For example perhaps a company like NETFLIX, making mega profits in Kenya, can actually use their negotiations with Kenya to improve conditions, rather than to turn their backs. Netflix has done absolutely nothing to support the LGBTQI+ communities they have discarded. They have failed to engaged LGBTQI+ stakeholders, despite requests for dialogue. Yet they were quick to make a deal with the anti-Gay Kenyan government to pull LGBTQI+ content so they can keep operating and making their profit. This is nothing but pure complicit behavior in a milieu that criminalizes and persecutes. See more HERE.
In 2021 HRC (US based Human Rights Campaign) expelled NETFLIX from its EQUALITY SCORE INDEX, due to the impact of one film. However we have yet to see any scoring or suspension of any corporation based on global operations in countries where they are (effectively) complicit in the anti-LGBTQI+ laws and climates.
It is time we started to push for accountability and dialogue with Corporations from the U.S. and other occidental countries. In doing so we must remain alert to those with lived experience having voice in this matter. The West must be alert to ensuring appropriate interventions that are not Colonial or dictatorial and most importantly that LGBTQI+ people suffer no further harm. It is a tight balance. However with care and expertise a lot can be accomplished.
The above written by Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of African Human Rights Coalition , is available for consultation, comment, and questions on these issues. Nathan is a country conditions expert witness for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from 17 African Countries. Contact: nathan@AfricanHRC.org
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