British billionaire Sir Richard Branson urged fellow business leaders on Thursday to shun and use their clout and put pressure on countries such as Brunei that persecute gay and lesbian citizens.
Much has been written and said over the past few weeks about the horrific decision by Brunei’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to introduce a harsh form of Sharia law which includes the death penalty by stoning for same sex-relations, among other draconian forms of corporal punishment.
The news was quickly condemned around the world, by the UN, by governments, civil society organizations and business.
As part of the public outcry, calls for a global boycott of the Dorchester Collection, a group of luxury hotels owned by Brunei’s sovereign wealth fund, quickly gained traction. Many global businesses have supported the boycott or pledged to stop doing business in and with Brunei. Virgin Australia, among others, cancelled an employee travel agreement with Royal Brunei Airlines.
The introduction of a stricter form of Sharia law in Brunei is not a new development. The country’s plans first became public in 2014, and the condemnation was widespread and swift. At Virgin, we decided back then to no longer do business with the Dorchester Collection – a ban we’ve upheld since, as a matter of principle that reinforces our commitment to LGBT+ rights everywhere.
Of course I am particularly worried about the LGBT+ community in Brunei, who have good reason to fear that the law will – at the very least – drive them into hiding, possibly even exile. While there’s hardly any help available inside the country, allies are not far away. Singapore’s leading gay rights group, Oogachaga, has set up a hotline and WhatsApp channel that offers emotional support to Brunei’s LGBT+ community. It’s an important lifeline we all should share and support.
Virgin is proud to be a founding member of Open for Business, a wonderful platform that was set up specifically to fill the void and build and champion the business case for LGBT+ inclusion. Its most recent Channels of Influence report provides useful guidance for businesses interested in a in a more in-depth conversation on the best course forward. Demonstrating that LGBT+ inclusion is a win-win proposition for both business and society may indeed be a good starting point to effect the lasting change we should all be seeking, in Brunei and elsewhere.
Alongside many others, I have signed a letter urging business leaders to stand up for the freedom to love,