OPINION: Why emerging markets businesses should support LGBT+ rights

by Parmesh Shahani | Godrej India Culture Lab
Monday, 20 January 2020 09:25 GMT

Chinese gay and transgender couples pose for pictures on a cruise ship at International Cruise Terminal Station in Shanghai, China June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Companies are worried that open support for LGBT+ inclusion could trigger a backlash from emerging markets consumers - but evidence shows otherwise

Parmesh Shahani is an author and the founder of Godrej India Culture Lab

There is a growing body of evidence that shows diverse and inclusive societies foster an environment that enables businesses to thrive and economies to prosper.

By bringing together different groups of people, societies cultivate an ecosystem where ideas are exchanged, creativity flows and value is unlocked through innovation. Diversity comes in various forms and there remains significant progress to be made for one particular group – the LGBT+ community.

As economies around the world continue to grow, it is encouraging to see that many are changing their laws to be inclusive of the LGBT+ community – India, together with Angola, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nauru, Palau, Seychelles as well as Trinidad and Tobago, have decriminalised same-sex acts in the past five years.

However, many countries remain unfriendly for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people, which creates growing tension for companies headquartered there that are looking to adopt best practices on LGBT+ inclusion as they grow and expand across borders.

One of the most common concerns emerging-market companies have on becoming more LGBT+ inclusive is the potential negative impacts on their reputation and financial performance.

Companies are worried that open support for LGBT+ inclusion could trigger a backlash from their consumers. The findings from Open For Business’ latest report, “New Global Champions: Why fast-growing companies from emerging markets are embracing LGBT+ inclusion,” show otherwise.

The report contains analysis of high-potential emerging-market companies undertaken by Boston Consulting Group, who found that LGBT+ inclusion enables these companies to tap into global markets and supply chains more effectively, without seeing any negative financial impacts.

Against today’s backdrop of intense competition, diversity and inclusion are now essential if companies and societies want to foster sustainable growth. This is especially true for emerging-market companies as they continue to grow beyond their home markets and compete with their global competitors.

Furthermore, consumer and employee expectations of businesses are changing and a narrow focus on serving just shareholders is no longer enough. Businesses are increasingly seen as having a responsibility to the societies and communities in which they operate.

Businesses headquartered in emerging markets have a role to play in creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce, and this will foster the environment needed for businesses to thrive.

Companies need to take a stand and engage with their stakeholders, especially civil society organisations and policymakers, to work together because LGBT+ inclusion will ultimately benefit everyone, not only the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender community.