LIVE BLOG: Pride at work? LGBT issues and ethical trade

We live blogged from 08:30 to 10:00 GMT on 28 February from our breakfast briefing on LGBT issues in supply chains. Our speakers - activist and campaigner Peter Tatchell, Chair of 'Out at Tesco' John Dickinson and TUC LGBT equality officer Huma Munshi - discussed current issues, illustrated dilemmas and discussed best practice. Read the summary here.

10:00: The speakers summed up the discussion. "It's in your court," said Peter to the companies present, challenging them to make policies and practices happen. John followed by confirming that "this [LGBT rights] is not a competitive situation and there should be collaboration across companies." He also confirmed that Tesco was thinking about how they could include LGBT rights in their supplier conferences. Huma ended by saying that companies should be "guided by their employees to ensure their voices are at the heart of business development on the issue".

09:50: In plenary the discussion concentrated on how multinational companies can embrace rights in difficult environments. Policies v culture were debated as was ambition. As Cindy said, "there are so many layers of discrimination and different kinds of vulnerability that companies must have a clear roadmap - there can be lots of clear policies but if they are not implemented it's an issue." The practicalities were also discussed such as benchmarking based on inclusion policies and getting trade unions involved with that. It was agreed that trade union intervention could be a very real asset.

09:40: The company reps at our table are discussing "duty of care" and the issues being faced by business globally, particularly where legally LGBT rights are not recognised. It's a live issue, and one company at the table is about to launch an LGBT allies network. However, company representative felt that it was often easier to widen anti-discrimination clauses to include all "at risk" groups, but that didn't mean they shouldn't address the issue.

09:35: An interesting debate is taking place on how companies can encourage non-discrimination where legally there are no rights or where the law actively discriminates against the LGBT community. We agree that in this situation, companies have a leadership role to play via their contracting policies.  

09:30: We're now talking at table, before going into plenary. Our table is discussing the linkages between LGBT rights, wider discrimination and the importance of unions in supporting rights even in countries where there isn't discrimination.

09:25: Unfortunately our web crashed during Peter Tatchell's discussion, so we uploaded the following summary after the debate ended.

Peter Tatchell said that despite some issues in particular countries, the trend is towards greater acceptance and protection globally, at least in a legislative context. He mentioned Mozambique, the Seychelles, northern Cyprus and Belize as examples of progress. And he also mentioned countries such as Vietnam, Cuba, Nepal and Taiwan which he said were moving in the right direction.

However, there is no international human rights convention in respect to LGBT rights. Instead, general clauses have been interpreted to protect gay people. This means that the LGBT community internationally is at a disadvantage.

78 countries (38% of all countries) penalise gay relationships with penalties ranging from fines to the death sentences.

He signalled out as deeply homophobic, Venezuela, despite its left-wing government.

Peter also pointed out that 33 out of 54 African states still criminalise homosexuality, with Chad recently criminalising for the first time.

He emphasised the strong necessity for allies such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa to be recruited and the importance of lobbying - he's currently asking the Commonwealth Summit to address LGBT rights in their next conference in London in 2018. That's important as over half of all Commonwealth states criminalise, with life imprisonment as a penalty in many.

Yet, despite a mixed picture, Peter said he was an optimist and ended by paraphrasing Martin Luther King:

"The arc of history bends toward justice."

09:10: John Dickenson for Out At Tesco says their objective is to be the best place to work if you are LGBT and subsequently the best place to shop. He emphasised the importance of leadership - Out At Tesco has CEO support. The purpose of Tesco's LGBT network is to support colleagues when needed. Their wider policy is also developing so they are, for example, looking to remove gender from their clubcard.

For Tesco, Pride is always important. It resonates with customers and they see a 40% increase in social media response during the Pride weekend. Tesco is now looking at how they can support colleagues globally, despite sometimes homophobic legislation. John tells us that even though Tesco is obviously a competitive organisation - it has to be - in LGBT rights they are not, and they are actively seeking to collaborate with like-minded organisations.

08.50: Huma Munshi from the TUC is now speaking. She urges us to always remember the struggle that lesbian women in particular face, particularly in societies where an "honour" code is prevalent. She reminded us there are 13 countries where the death penalty stands for same-sex relationships. In many others, there are disparities in rights. When laws do not protect LGBT people, they are very vulnerable. She emphasised the importance of lobbying and collaboration with voluntary sector organisations. 

Huma continued by saying the TUC is particularly interested in the UK in protecting trans people as they transition and Huma is giving an example of a teacher who they worked with and how smoothly the transition process went because LGBT equality was considered right at the beginning of the teacher's experience, with staff and parents fully behind the teacher. More generally, TUC reps are kept fully informed of issues and the TUC is currently campaigning for "survivor" policies in the UK i.e. around pension provision. "The measure of a good employer is keeping employees informed," says Huma.

08:45: Luca Ponzetta in Cindy's team explained that combatting discrimination is part of ETI's Base Code of labour standards but LGBT workers often can be overlooked. 20% of workers face bullying and only one in eight of those will complain. And that's in the UK! Luca volunteers for a gay helpline and he told the audience that very young men in particular, can find it difficult to come out to colleagues because of fear of bullying.

08.40: Cindy Berman our Head of Knowledge and Learning welcomes the audience. She advises the audience that our Ethical Insights series is about debating issues of global significance in supply chains.

08:30: All our guest speakers have now arrived. A warm welcome to Peter Tatchell who has now arrived, and we are just waiting to start as the audience files in.

08:15: Welcome to our live blog on LGBT rights and ethical trade, which will concentrate on the rights of gay workers. Our guest speakers are beginning to arrive - John from Tesco and Huma from the TUC are in the room and we're expecting up to 40 guests for the debate.

Follow this link for more information about our Ethical Insights debate, LGBT issues and ethical trade.

Our speakers

Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation

Peter Tatchell has championed the fight against discrimination of LGBT people for decades with significant success. He is a strong advocate of workers’ rights and has worked alongside trades unions and workers around the world in their struggle for equal treatment. The Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF) seeks to promote and protect the human rights of individuals, communities and nations in the UK and internationally. Peter will illustrate PTF’s advocacy work on LGBT issues and share his experiences as a human rights activist.

Huma Munshi, Policy Officer, Trades Union Congress

Huma is the LGBT Equality Policy Officer at The Trades Union Congress (TUC). Huma will highlight the challenges and issues LGBT people face around the world and provide examples of good practice - on how trade unions can support activists on the ground. 

John Dickinson, Diversity and Inclusion Manager & Chair, Out At Tesco

John Dickinson is the Chair of Out At Tesco, one of the largest LGBT+ colleague networks in the UK with over 1,500 members across Tesco Group. He also leads Tesco's Global Diversity and Inclusion Team. As a long-standing ETI member, Tesco has a serious commitment to ethical trade and is both active and visible on LGBT rights. John will discuss the links between LGBT rights and ethical trade, and share examples of how Tesco engages with other retailers, as well as suppliers, NGOs and trade unions, to create an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Follow this link for more information about our Ethical Insights debate, LGBT issues and ethical trade.



ETI's blog covers issues at the intersection of business, news and ethical trade. We welcome a range of insights and opinions from our guest bloggers, though don't necessarily agree with everything they say.