Keynote message at the 2022 Pride Summit on the role of the business sector in building inclusive, safe, progressive and democratic spaces and industries for LGBTQIA+ workers

By Mr Bryan Balco, Project Manager of the ILO EU Trade for Decent Work, ILO Country Office for the Philippines at the 2022 Pride Summit on the role of the business sector in building inclusive, safe, progressive and democratic spaces and industries for LGBTQIA+ Workers, 5 August 2022, Paranaque, Philippines

Statement | Paranaque, Philippines | 05 August 2022

  • Dear friends and social partners, especially the representatives and leaders of multinational corporations and enterprises;
  • Our LGBTQIA+ sisters, brothers and fellow workers;
  • Distinguished guests and participants, a very good, inspiring and empowering afternoon to you all!

Before I formally start, let me say that this is my third time to speak at a Philippine Finance and Inter-Industry Pride (PFIP) event. The first was when I spoke about why inclusion is everyone’s business during the 1st Philippine Workplace Inclusion Forum (PWIF) in April last year.

The second was during the recent Alab for Love (Burn for Love) Pride March last June. During the event, I reaffirmed that LGBTQIA+ workers’ inclusion is central to the ILO’s decent work agenda.

And today, my third time, I am here in behalf of ILO CO-Manila to talk about how we can concretely realize the goal of LGBTQIA+ inclusion through the role of the private sector, especially multinational corporations based here in the Philippines.

LGBTQIA+ Inclusion gaps that companies fill in

As you are all aware, the Philippines does not yet have a national comprehensive law that prohibits discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and sex characteristics (SOGIE-SC). And this is a huge hole that you, industry leaders, are filling in through your inclusive policies, especially since 30 percent of LGBTQIA+ Filipino workers have experienced discrimination, according to a 2018 UNDP-ILO Survey.

It is encouraging to note that Philippine-based companies have started adopting LGBTQIA+-inclusive policies, such as extending benefits to essentially common-law spouses of their LGBTQIA+ employees, including access to healthcare and other privileges. This is already a huge help to LGBTQIA+ spouses whose status is yet to be legally recognized.

COVID: Reminder that LGBTQIA+ exclusion is real

The COVID-19 global pandemic has shown us how the most vulnerable and ostracized of society can be left out of socioeconomic policies. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, a number of local government units (LGUs) took inclusive measures by making sure that LGBTQIA+ families are included in their COVID-related cash/social assistance programs, or more popularly known as ayudas. However, according to a 2020 Outrage International Report, there were also those that were refused ayudas on the technical grounds that they are not legally married. But thanks to solidarity and democratic organizing from their friends and local community, the LGUs reversed course and included them.

There is indeed power and beauty in social and democratic community organizing, which is something that we should not be afraid of, because it helps us see things that we do not see and therefore, can help us correct things. We have seen this in the Community Pantry Movement last year. Another similar initiative is the “Tabang Ladlad”, which provides assistance to our elderly LGBTQIA+ persons who have lost their livelihood during the pandemic.

ILO Global to Action on Inclusive COVID Recovery

Such acts of solidarity and mutual aid shown by ordinary Filipinos with the LGBTQIA+ community is very much aligned with the ILO’s 2021 Global Call to Action for a Human Centred Recovery from the COVID Crisis on building a more inclusive post-pandemic world of work by reducing poverty, gender and economic inequalities. Philippine multinationals can respond to this Call for a Human Centred COVID Recovery by contributing to the Decent Work Country Programme for the Philippines (DWCP) 2020-2024, which emphasizes gender as a cross-cutting decent work issue, and by institutionalizing diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) policies that reduce inequalities in the world of work.

Seeing DEI through the lens of intersectionality

While it is encouraging to note that companies around the world, including the Philippines, are increasingly taking part in Pride events and marches, more should be done at the firm or factory-level, in terms of LGBTQIA+, gender and socially inclusive policies.
Putting on LGBTQIA+ shirts and buttons and waving Rainbow flags are a good start. But similar to pinning HIV/AIDS red ribbons, wearing purple shirts during women’s month and donning traditional indigenous clothing, such symbolic expressions of solidarity lose their beauty, if the systematic violations of the labour and human rights of LGBTQIA+ persons, persons with living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIVs), indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities (PWDs), farmers and fisherfolks, remain unabated.

For it to be transformative, DEI, which has become a buzzword in the corporate world, must be also seen from the broader lens of intersectionality. Developed by African-American scholar-activist Kimberle Crenshaw, intersectionality not only sees but also weaves together the issues that bind women, LGBTQIA+ persons, PLHIVs, PWDs, indigenous peoples, labourers, farmers and fisherfolks.

Examples of this would be concerns over inflation, unemployment, low wages, income inequality, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, violence, impunity, red-tagging, human rights violations, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, union busting and job insecurities. But more than these common issues, intersectionality envisions solidarity towards peace, social justice and decent work for all.

Tripartism in ILO: Intersectionality in action

In the context of the ILO, intersectionality is best expressed by its practice of tripartism and social dialogue, as exemplified in several conventions, like: These ILO instruments intersect with agreements like:
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goals;
  • UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct;
  • Progressive International’s Declaration on Democracy, Egalitarianism, Eco-Feminism, Pluralism, Post-Capitalism and Anti-Imperialism;
  • Investor Alliance for Human Rights’ Investor Toolkit on Human Rights;
  • Vatican Council for Inclusive Capitalism; and
  • UN Principles for Socially Responsible Investing

Of these global agreements, perhaps the most popular has been the UNGP/BHR and the UN Global Compact that many multinationals have signed up for:
  1. Businesses should respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights;
  2. Businesses should not be complicit in human rights violations;
  3. Uphold the freedom of association and recognize the right to collective bargaining;
  4. Elimination of all forms of forced labour;
  5. Effective abolition of child labour;
  6. Elimination of discrimination in employment;
  7. Addressing environmental challenges;
  8. Promote greater environmental responsibility;
  9. Environment-friendly technologies; and
  10. Fight corruption in all its forms

While the UN Global Compact is a global voluntary commitment among multinationals, including those based here, it commits not just to UN SDGs but also to four (4) principles that are actually legally-binding, especially the ILO core conventions on forced labour (C29), freedom of association (C87), collective bargaining (C98), equal remuneration (C100), abolition of forced labour (C105), non-discrimination (C111), minimum age (C138) and worst forms of child labour (C182) – all of which have been ratified by the Philippines.

More so, the ILO MNE Declaration mandates all tripartite constituents to observe the UNGP principles on the States’ existing obligations to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the enterprises’ compliance with all laws respecting human rights, and the need for remedies when they are breached. It also urges multinationals, wherever they operate, to avoid adverse impacts on human rights, and when they unfortunately occur, businesses must be accountable in mitigating or resolving adverse human rights impacts. To prevent such incidents, the MNE Declaration urges enterprises to undertake human rights due diligence all throughout their value chains by engaging in social dialogue with their direct stakeholders – the workers.

ESG: Diversity, inclusion, economic democratization

It is also for this reason that the ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) metrics is gaining popularity nowadays, among younger generations, because they see it intersecting with so many socioeconomic issues, including LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and as a chance for businesses to take DEI, labour and human rights due diligence seriously, as urged by the MNE Declaration.

However, ESG is not something new. It first burst onto the global stage when the late UN Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan asked top global executives in 2004 to band together under the UN Global Compact and ensure that ESG issues are integrated into global financial policies. This would later result into the 2006 UN Principles for Responsible Investments (PRI), which has become the Magna Carta for ESG investing. While the “E” has been previously given the most attention, more corporations are highlighting the “S” in ESG – the “social” – to start including labour and human rights, especially ILO core conventions and the UN SDGs, particularly, Goals No. 4 and 8 on achieving gender equality and decent work and economic growth, respectively.

ESG gained recent global attention, when the Game Stop market rebellion, staged by renegade stock market investors tried to beat the big capitalist investors and hedge fund managers in their own game. That brief 2021 Game Stop saga offered hopes for many that a grassroots democratic economy can be possible, after being worn down by the pandemic, income inequalities, climate inaction and continuing uncertainties brought about by the resurgence of autocratic populist politics in recent years.

If in the early 2000s, the call for ESG came from the top, this time around, the demands for ethical or post-capitalist investing have come from below, especially the millennial and Gen Z workers, who are becoming more socially conscious about the businesses and brands they patronize. But more than just being socially conscious, the millennial and Gen Z generations are also becoming sexually aware, or better yet, “woke,” to use this famous term.

The “S” in ESG: Not just social but sexual

As such, the “S” in ESG is not just about being social but also being “sexual” – sexual in terms of gender equality, diversity and inclusion, or, as what we call in ILO, “GEDI.” In this regard, may the force really be with us, as we make our businesses accountable and democratic. I emphasize democratic because it is what would help us realize our goal of building inclusive, safe, and progressive spaces for LGBTQIA+ workers.

Without giving workers, especially LGBTQIA+ workers, genuine democratic voice, representation and participation in our companies’ decision-making processes, power structures, labour-management councils, grievance machineries, collective bargaining agreements, DEI committees, then all our efforts at being human rights-compliant, ESG-oriented, worker-friendly or LGBTQIA+-inclusive would be in vain.

I believe that this is not what we want for our companies. And this is the reason why all of us have been here today since this morning: we are deeply committed to making LGBTQIA+ workplace inclusion not just compliance in paper or annual reports but a day-to-day reality and a regular exercise of workplace, industrial and economic democracy.

ILO guides on LGBTQIA+ inclusion, DEI, ESG

Towards this end, the ILO’s recently launched the Learning Guide on Inclusion of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ+) Persons in the World of Work offers a clear set of guidelines and collective actions that enterprises can take in building inclusive, safe, progressive and democratic workplaces.

As per the 2022 ILO LGBTIQ+ Inclusion Guide, there is a business case for DEI. Diversity in the workplace, including more LGBTQIA+ workers, is better for business as it creates opportunities for a diversified pool of talents, potentials for productivity, increased foreign investments, and better reputation in terms of being socially progressive, which could attract more rights-conscious consumers and investors.

Also, if companies are serious in creating inclusive and safe spaces for their LGBTQIA+ workers, then there must be constant dialogue with the management. This can be done best if there are unions in companies that can help bridge the gap between LGBTQIA+ employees and management, and identify areas for improvement, such as using gender-sensitive language, gender neutral dress codes, LGBTQIA+-friendly sanitary, leisure, learning and health facilities, clear policy against harassment and discrimination based on one’s SOGIE-SC, extending benefits to same-sex couples, and workplace adjustment measures for LGBTQIA+ workers with health issues.

DEI committees can use the lens of intersectionality to discuss how work issues affect their professional career, health, working conditions, wages, and family concerns. They can also discuss how they can recommend to corporate boards LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies as part of their companies’ ESG metrics and labour and human rights commitments under the UN Global Compact and the ILO MNE Declaration.

They can even recommend proposals to have affirmative action commitments to recruit LGBTQIA+ indigenous persons/PWDs or the conduct of gender-sensitivity trainings for all employees to ensure a welcoming and inclusive work culture and environment. More importantly, DEI committees can even push their companies to support the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill and the ratification of ILO Convention No. 190 to end workplace violence, that also cover LGBTQIA+ workers.

Again, using the 2022 LGBTIQ+ Inclusion Guide, we can also reorient how we do collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). We can do this by including in CBAs women and LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies like safe breastfeeding facilities, childcare spaces in offices for LGBTQIA+ parents, health insurance for gender-transitioning employees, mental health counselling for distressed workers, and effective grievance machineries that handle incidences of harassment and violence in the workplace. While these seem costly, the long-term gains are undeniable.

DEI: A tool to address systemic inequalities

Firstly, promoting LGBTQIA+ inclusion increases diversity, productivity and profitability of companies. As pointed out by the 2022 ILO Report on Transforming Enterprises through Diversity and Inclusion, promoting DEI has resulted in tangible benefits for enterprises, societies and economies, in terms of attracting a wider pool of talents, lower attrition rates, lesser absences, increased firm productivity and more democratic decision-making processes. This is why DEI is being included in ESG.

Secondly, the 2022 ILO Diversity and Inclusion Report noted that the EU recently introduced a Sustainable Financial Disclosure regulation that aims to promote sustainable ESG investment funds that incorporates gender and sexual diversity.

Speaking of EU, as the national project manager of the ILO-EU Trade for Decent Work Project, I am glad to say that LGBTQIA+ workers’ issues are very much embedded in all our project outcomes. In particular, the Digital Self-Assessment Compliance (DSAC) Tool that we developed with the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) incorporates LGBTQIA+ non-discrimination. We have also included LGBTQIA+ labour rights in our online tools for trade unions. We are also pleased to announce to you that we are collaborating with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to deepen labour rights in ESG.

This is one of our many efforts to help improve the current state of freedom of association in this country, which is vital to our ability to maintain the current EU GSP+ trade privileges. LGBTQIA+ workers’ rights and freedom of association would play a critical role in this, especially in the light of the recent reports and allegations of the enforced disappearance of an LGBTQIA+ woman labour organizer and activist.

Meanwhile, citing an S&P Global research tracking the performance of 500 US companies, the 2022 ILO DEI Report noted that companies with more women on corporate boards and as CEOs proved to be more profitable in the stock market than those that are less diverse. It also took note of what S&P Global had to say, that in the coming years, less gender-diverse companies may become an investment risk factor.

Moreover, as argued powerfully by the UN PRI, DEI must also be seen as a tool to address systemic issues of social and structural inequalities. Quoting an International Monetary Fund (IMF) study, the 2022 UN PRI D&I Report said that longer periods of growth are correlated with greater equality and that enabling people’s potentials can help diversify the workforce and boost long-term growth. Moreover, reducing social inequality by increasing the inclusion of disadvantaged groups would have positive effects on businesses, as their incomes and skills increase.

To directly quote from the 2022 UN PRI’s D&I Report, “DEI action could directly boost economic growth.” LGBTQIA+ inclusion is not just a strategy for productivity but also an entry point for businesses to contribute to a rights-based approach to inclusive, progressive and democratic development, whose benefits would ultimately redound, to quote both US Senator Bernie Sanders and former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, “for the many, and not the few.”

Bending further the arc of the moral universe

That said, I would like to end by mentioning this famous quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” And with your help, as socially responsible investors, human rights-supportive multinationals, and gender-inclusive businesses, let us keep bending further the moral universe’s arc so that it would finally lead us to social justice and economic democracy for all. Thank you very much! Mabuhay kayong lahat! At padayon (long live and carry on)!