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Alexis Petru headshot

Does a Company’s LGBT Policies Apply to Its Workers Abroad?

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Most leading U.S. corporations now have LGBT nondiscrimination policies in place for their American gay and lesbian employees, according to Shelley Alpern, director of social research and shareholder advocacy at socially responsible investment firm, Clean Yield Asset Management. But it’s unclear if these policies extend to the companies’ employees in countries outside the U.S. – an issue that becomes particularly important in parts of the world that are culturally and legally hostile to LGBT individuals.

To open up a dialogue on this subject, Clean Yield and a group of other socially-minded investment firms sent letters last week to some of the country’s largest publicly-traded corporations, like Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Target, encouraging the businesses to make sure their LGBT employee protection policies apply abroad.

The investor group, which collectively owns or manages $210 billion in assets, wrote to approximately 70 companies in the S&P 100 that were identified by the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index as having strong nondiscrimination and equal benefits policies for their U.S. employees.

There is currently no federal law that shields gay, lesbian and transgender individuals from employment discrimination, including not being hired, fired or otherwise singled out because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 29 states lack regulations explicitly prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 32 states have no such legislation regarding gender identity.

Because of the federal government’s inaction on this issue, many companies have stepped up to the plate and developed their own internal policies and practices that protect LGBT employees from discrimination and ensure they receive the same benefits that non-LGBT employees do. In fact, more than 175 companies made these commitments after encouragement from investors and shareholders, Alpern said.

Laws and cultural attitudes towards gays and lesbians across the globe is obviously varied, and Clean Yield and the other investors said they were especially concerned about LGBT workers who live in countries with little or no legal protections. Only 66 countries provide some legal assurances for LGBT individuals in the workplace; in 164 nations, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identify is either permitted, or the law is unclear, according to the group of investors. In 79 countries, consensual same-sex relationships are considered illegal; only 17 nations allow same-sex marriages, while 23 provide some recognition of LGBT partnerships.

Even more draconian, homosexuality or gender role non-conformance is punishable by death in a handful of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Somalia.

The private sector is increasingly viewing safeguarding the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender employees as a smart business decision – and not solely a moral obligation. A corporate culture that promotes diversity and inclusion enables companies to recruit, nurture and retain the best talent, said John Browne, the former BP CEO who was forced to resign when he was outed as gay by a British tabloid.

Clean Yield and the group of investors highlighted this business case for LGBT protection in last week’s letter about companies extending their nondiscrimination policies to foreign workers. They also pointed out that offering international assignments to U.S. employees – a career-advancing opportunity that can help keep top workers loyal – pose extra challenges for LGBT individuals. Can employees seek legal recourse if faced with discrimination or harassment in the country to which they’ve relocated? Will they be able to bring their same-sex partner abroad? According to the investors, 168 nations, including the U.S., do not allow individuals to legally bring their same-sex partner into the country.

Just as these corporations established their LGBT nondiscrimination policies in response to a lack of government action, it will be interesting to see if these same companies will do the same for their workers in countries also failing to protect gay and lesbian employees. And it’s just possible – because a group of socially-conscious investors previously influenced over 175 companies to enact their original LGBT policies – Clean Yield and the other investment firms will be successful in this current campaign for equality.

Image credit: Flickr/InSapphoWeTrust

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru

Alexis Petru headshotAlexis Petru

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.

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