Welcome Remarks by Ms. Louise Chamberlain, UNDP Country Director at Executive Dialogue on Implementing LGBTI inclusion in Asia



Date: 9.00am, Tuesday, 17 January, 2017
Event: Executive Dialogue: Implementing LGBTI inclusion in Asia
Venue: Green One UN House

Distinguished guests,

LGBTI activists,

Representatives from government,

Representatives from the business community,

Development partners and colleagues,

I have the great pleasure to welcome you, to this important and timely discussion on LGBTI inclusion in business, the “Executive Dialogue: Implementing LGBTI inclusion in Asia”. I am glad to welcome our colleagues from the Economist, our partner on this endeavor, who I’m sure needs no introduction as a leading global publication.

The UN has increasingly taken a more prominent role in addressing the human rights of LGBTI individuals and has helped bring this issue to international attention. The interest of the Economist with a wide readership among decision makers, to raise the profile and create awareness of discrimination faced by LGBTI persons, especially in the context of business, makes this partnership a natural and effective alliance.

The relevance of the issue of LGBTI inclusion is exemplified by the caliber of organizations and individuals represented in the room here today, and I thank you all for taking the time to be a part of this informal roundtable discussion.

Over the past few years, protection of the rights of LGBTI persons has become central to the work of the UN. While there has no doubt been great progress, it is disheartening that 73 countries around the world today still have criminal laws against sexual activity by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. There are also worrying trends of oppression against the LGBTI community in many parts of the world.

This is why, with a focus on protecting the human rights of LGBTI individuals in all aspects of life and society that the UN and UNDP have embraced the LGBTI agenda.

In Viet Nam, progress has been fast but uneven, with the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman removed from the Constitution in 2013, and the unbanning of same sex marriage in the revised Law on Marriage and Family in 2014. 2016 marked an important year particularly for transgender individuals, with the passing of legislation which allows those who have undergone gender reassignment to register under their preferred sex, which I am proud to say UNDP, along with partners in the room here today, worked and advocated for.

Of course, legal progress is not the same as elimination of prevailing stigma. Importantly, in the UN Human Rights Council, Vietnam as a member voted in favour of a resolution for the protection of LGBTI persons and the establishment, for the first time, of an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite such progress there is still considerable work to be done. LGBTI discrimination in business practices remains an important issue in Vietnam. The business sector plays a huge role in protecting the rights of LGBTI persons – certainly some global businesses are so sizeable they outweigh a number of sovereign nations both in terms of resources and influence. They can choose to have non-discriminatory and inclusive hiring practices, they can promote a corporate culture that values diversity and puts an end to bullying and intimidation.

The rights of all people are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the principle of non-discrimination. While international human rights treaties do not impose legal obligations on enterprises, businesses have tremendous power and ability to affect the enjoyment of human rights, both positively and negatively. Just consider the impact that job creation can have on a range of rights, including the rights to health, education, food and shelter. The rapid economic development that Viet Nam has experienced in recent years must be matched by greater equality and protection for marginalized groups. Growth must be inclusive and sustainable and then benefits of growth accessible to all.

The role of businesses as organs of society, performing various important functions and services, and the requirement for them to comply with all applicable laws and respect for human rights, is recognized in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, I hope you are familiar with these. Many of the businesses in this room are shining examples of fulfilling this role, and it is important to showcase good practices, and develop guidance for others to help them recognize and fulfill this role.

In looking to the future, and building on the progress made in 2016, LGBTI inclusion in business should remain a central part of our respective efforts. Policies and practice of inclusion and non-discrimination in the work place send a strong signal around the world that Business supports equality.

With that, I again welcome you all here today, and offer many thanks for the support and collaboration of our partners at the Economist for co-hosting this event with us. I hope your discussions will be very fruitful toward our collective action to ensure LGBTI inclusion in business, and support steps toward ensuring equality for everyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.

I would now like to both welcome Charles Goddard, Editorial Director with The Economist Intelligence Unit in Asia-Pacific, to the Green One UN House and also invite him to make his opening remarks.