United States: New Standards Of Conduct For Companies Seeking To Operate With Respect For The Rights Of LGBTI People

Last Updated: October 17 2017
Article by Sarah A. Altschuller

On September 26, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released new Standards of Conduct intended to support the business community in tackling discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex ("LGBTI") people. The full report released by the High Commission includes the Standards, background materials, and corporate case studies.

The U.N. Human Rights Office has observed that the Standards are intended to provide both operational guidance for companies and a benchmark against which corporate efforts can be evaluated. Specifically, the Human Rights Office stated that:

[it] encourages companies to endorse, use, and refer to these Standards and promote their use by others. It also encourages civil society and other stakeholders to use the Standards as a tool in assessing and reporting on companies' commitments, policies, and practices in respect to the rights of LGBTI people.

The Standards

The Standards, which were developed in partnership with the Institute for Human Rights and Business, make clear that companies are expected not only to respect the rights of LGTBI people in their own workplaces, but also to make efforts to address LGBTI discrimination in their supply chains and by their business partners.

Specifically, companies are expected to:

  1. Respect Human Rights  in their own operations and in their business relationships;
  2. Eliminate Discrimination against LGTBI people in the workplace;
  3. Provide Support  to LGBTI employees, not only by providing equal benefits but also by seeking to ensure inclusion;
  4. Prevent other Human Rights Violations by ensuring that they do not discriminate against LGBTI customers, suppliers, and distributors – and by insisting that their business partners do the same; and
  5. Act in the Public Sphere  by exercising leverage to help stop human rights abuses against LGBTI people in the countries in which they operate.

Implementing Comprehensive Human Rights Due Diligence

Notably, implementation of the new Standards will require companies to carry out human rights due diligence. Such due diligence will allow companies to assess and manage the impacts of their activities on the LGBTI population. Consistent with Guiding Principle No. 18, companies should always be mindful of "particular human rights impacts on individuals from groups or populations that may be at heightened risk of vulnerability or marginalization." The Standards provide companies with guidance on how to address potential impacts on one particularly vulnerable group, the LGBTI population.

Comprehensive human rights due diligence will help ensure that companies appropriately consider country-specific risks in the countries in which they operate. This will allow them: (1) to identify appropriate opportunities at the local level to speak out against abuses of LGBTI persons; and (2) to provide support to vulnerable populations, including through cooperation with local service organizations.

As covered in a previous post, one important step that companies can take in implementing the Standards is to assess local law in the countries in which they operate and to ensure that their workplace policies in all countries are as rights-protective as possible. Anchoring Equality, a report by the Council for Global Equality, observed that most multinationals "have country-specific human resource policies that are implemented in a decentralized fashion." While companies need to have policies that are consistent with local law, they should also be proactive in responding to discrimination and in promoting inclusive, and rights-protective, workplace policies. A clear statement by a company that it is committed to non-discriminatory practices at a global level can help drive change at the local level.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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