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U.N. Stands Up for LGBT Workers Around the Globe

The U.N. Human Rights Office advises businesses around the world on treatment of LGBT and intersex employees, suppliers, and customers.

In 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously gave a United Nations speech in which she said that gay rights are human rights. Today the U.N. made clear that those rights don’t go away in the workplace — and that businesses have an obligation to support such rights in the cities, states, and countries where they operate.

The U.N. Human Rights Office today released standards of conduct for businesses around the world on how to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex employees, suppliers, and customers.

“Social change requires the active involvement of all parts of society — including, critically, the business community,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, speaking to business leaders, activists, and journalists at Microsoft’s New York City headquarters. “The decisions that companies take — whether in respect of human resources, investment, supply chains, even marketing — can have a real and, in some cases, profound impact on human rights.”

The standards include eliminating workplace discrimination, making sure business operations do not contribute to discrimination against customers, suppliers, or members of the public, and working with business partners to address discriminatory practices up and down the supply chain. They also encourage companies to stand up for the rights of LGBTI people in the countries where they operate, including through advocacy and support for local organizations.

In the report laying out the standards, Zeid wrote, “The influence of business can accelerate the pace of change. Companies all over the world — big and small, local and multinational — have the chance to use their leverage and their relationships with a variety of local stakeholders to help move the dial in the direction of greater equality for LGBTI people. We know from experience that every time discrimination is diminished, everyone benefits.”

Several major companies have already adopted the standards. They include Accenture, Baker McKenzie, BNP Paribas, Coca-Cola, Gap, Godrej, IKEA Group, and Microsoft.

Microsoft president Brad Smith welcomed the standards, saying,  “While important strides have been made to advance LGBTI rights, there are still gaps. Corporate standards, set by the private sector, can help companies articulate their values and stand up for the rights of LGBTI individuals in the workplace and communities in which they do business.”

Speaking at the launch, Accenture Products chief executive Sander van’t Noordende said, “These standards will be vital for companies that understand the importance of an inclusive workplace, marketplace and community and want to know how to make a start. I hope they will make it possible for more people to bring their authentic selves to work.”

The standards build on the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011. They are the product of a year-long process of consultations facilitated by the U.N. Human Rights Office and the Institute for Human Rights and Business, including regional meetings with leading business representatives in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

Watch the launch ceremony live on the U.N. Human Rights Facebook page.

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