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Brunei’s anti-LGBT stance proves costly as meetings industry shuns country

Human rights issues in Brunei highlighted as a major factor in selecting the destination for meetings and conferences.

Brunei’s anti-LGBT backlash has gathered apace, with meetings industry bodies and agencies calling for the reversal of the strict Islamic laws in which sex between men is punishable by stoning, and the punishment for lesbian sex is 40 lashes or a maximum prison term of 10 years.

In a joint statement from IAPCO, Martin Boyle, chief executive officer and president Mathias Posch said that IAPCO members comply with a code of conduct that commits them to “providing and fostering meetings that create an inclusive atmosphere for people regardless of their national origin, race, religion, sex, marital status, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental impairment.

“As an association that believes in the power of knowledge and inclusivity, we add our voice to the calls to Brunei to reverse the latest Anti LGBTQ laws.

“Human rights issues can be a major factor in determining the appropriateness of selecting the next host destination for clients’ meetings and conferences.  Such violations of human rights, as stated by the United Nations, may cause organisations to reconsider Brunei as a host destination which could ultimately lead to significant negative economic and social outcomes for the country.

“As the independent accreditation and education body for 133 Professional Conference Organisations from 40 countries around the world, our members delivered 9.1 billion Euros of economic impact into destinations in 2018 alone.”

Fine words indeed. Dale Parmenter CEO at DRPG also added some words of reason. “If Brunei want to attract and be seen as a global destination for business, then they have to come out of the dark ages and embrace inclusion and equality.

“We find it unbelievable in this day and age this approach is still taken. We certainly would not be recommending the Brunei as a location for meetings or incentives, until they have a change of attitude, although still hard to understand people still think in this way.”

Boycott efficacy
Other businesses have also voiced their outrage and taken action. Travel agencies such as STA Travel and airlines like Virgin Australia have ended partnerships with the state-owned Royal Brunei Airlines.

Deutsche Bank announced in a statement that its employees would no longer use Dorchester hotels on company business. “The new laws introduced by Brunei breach the most basic human rights, and we believe it is our duty as a firm to take action against them,” chief risk officer Stuart Lewis said.

“We are proud to support LGBTIQ rights around the world, and as part of this we regularly review our business partnerships to ensure that they are aligned with this principle.”

#Bruneiboycott campaign gained further momentum as Transport for London halted its Brunei tourism advertising campaign. The reason given, according to a spokesperson, was in response to public sensitivity and controversy. Any proposed future campaign would be reviewed against the organisation’s advertising policy.

But what is the effect of it all? So far, we have seen the deactivation of the Dorchester Collection’s social media accounts. The reason given was because of the “personal abuse” directed at its employees.

The statement released by the Dorchester was ambiguous, to say the least. The line it took was to say the issue was a political and religious one and that “we don’t believe should be played out in our hotels and amongst our 3,650 employees… Our values are far removed from the politics of ownership.” We all have to make compromises, but this seems a compromise too far. Can you really work for a company when you don’t agree with their ethical stance?

The financial effect remains to be seen, and there were sarcastic comments on social media about the efficacy of boycotting a stay at a £5,000-per-night hotel room. Yes, I’m sure we’ve all been there.

It will also take an enormous amount of loose change for the Sultan of Brunei, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, to feel the economic pinch. He has an estimated wealth of $20 billion, according to Forbes.

What’s needed is a strong and sustained protest against what are essentially human rights abuses. If the meetings and event industry, worth around £40bn, joins forces and hits where it hurts (ie in the wallet) even the billionaire Sultan will feel the effect.