Norms for an inclusive corporate India

Companies have power to change societal perceptions on LGBTI persons, says U.N. Human Rights Officer

October 14, 2017 12:34 am | Updated 12:34 am IST

 Fabrice Houdart (centre), Human Rights Officer, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, launching the Corporate Standards of Conduct on Tackling Discrimination Against the LGBTI community in Mumbai.

Fabrice Houdart (centre), Human Rights Officer, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, launching the Corporate Standards of Conduct on Tackling Discrimination Against the LGBTI community in Mumbai.

Workplace discrimination remains one of the most challenging issues facing the LGBTI community. India is one of many countries that lacks protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex workers.

Among Indian companies, Godrej has been at the forefront of providing equal opportunities to all and instituting policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

At an event at the Godrej Culture Lab on Thursday, the company, in association with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, launched the Corporate Standards of Conduct on Tackling Discrimination Against the LGBTI community.

These global standards were developed by the U.N. Human Rights Office and the Institute for Human Rights and Business as a way for companies to know how they can effect positive social changes in the workplace and beyond. The report also outlines the steps companies can take to tackle discrimination against LGBTI people at the workplace.

Releasing the report, Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer, Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed the ripple effect that such policies can have for companies, pointing out that companies had the power to change the perception of their clients and of society around them towards LGBTI persons.

Mr. Houdart pointed to many examples of companies and corporate houses that had taken the lead in taking on government policies that discriminated against LGBTI persons. Examples of this included Barclays Bank and their campaign against an anti-gay bill passed by the government of Uganda, and companies campaigning against anti-gay legislation passed in in North Carolina, U.S.A, which discouraged other States from passing a similar legislation. He said several Indian businesses came together to issue messages of support to the LGBTI community after the criminalisation of homosexuality under Section 377 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

On the larger economic picture, Mr. Houdart said a report by Credit Suisse had found that companies with a policy of diversity outperformed other companies by 3%. He said friendly policies also increased the productivity of LGBTI workers and that according to further research done by the U.N., homophobia cost countries up to $100 billion a year in GDP.

Mr. Houdart said the standards were not creating any new human rights obligations, but merely reaffirming the responsibility of companies to honour the basic human rights of all citizens. The five major suggestions in the report are to respect human rights, eliminate discrimination, provide support to LGBTI people, prevent other human rights violations, and to act in the public sphere.

The event also included a panel discussion on the inclusion of LGBTI in Corporate India, with Radhika Piramal, Managing Director, VIP Industries Ltd.; Nandita Das, actor and filmmaker; Gauri Sawant, transgender activitist; Keshav Suri, Managing Director, Lalit Hotels; and Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch. The panel was moderated by Salil Tripathi, Senior Advisor, Global Issues, Institute for Human Rights and Business.

Ms. Piramal, one of the first Indian corporate CEOs to come out as lesbian, said to improve the position of LGBTI people in society, affirmation from the private sector was a necessity. “Let us be optimistic for the change that can happen in India,” she said, adding how a company treated its most vulnerable workers said a lot about it. Ms. Piramal said that having a formal standard that does the work of an HR department that wants to change its policies was practical and helpful.

The Lalit Group is one organisation that has implemented pro-LGBTI policies. Asked what prompted him to do so, Mr. Suri said it was high time. “Change has to be from top down. There are enough leaders who can bring about a change but they don’t.” He said that while a lot of MNCs that have come to India introduced inclusive policies, a fair number of them hadn’t; HSBC, for instance, had taken out ads across the world on inclusiveness but didn’t in India.

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