Speech in Bogota on Business and #humanrights of LGBTI people #WeTrade2018

Fabrice Houdart
5 min readNov 5, 2018


Speech by United Nations Human Rights Officer Fabrice Houdart

On the occasion of #WETRADE2018

Presenting the global standards for business on tackling LGBTI discrimination, developed by the United Nations Human Rights Office

November 1st, 2018, in Bogota

Before I start my remarks, I would like to take a couple of minutes to show a video that our office produced in 2016 titled the “Price of Exclusion” which reiterates the human rights, business and economic case for equality.

Distinguished colleagues and friends;

My office, the UN human Rights Office is mandated to “promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights”. A tall order particularly in today’s difficult global context on Human Rights! This means standing for all human rights, for everyone, everywhere, and that includes combating violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

We launched the Global LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business to guide companies on tackling discrimination faced by LGBTI people — first in New York in September 2017 and since then in most parts of the World, Melbourne, Nairobi, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Geneva, Toronto, London, Paris, Pretoria, Seattle and Madrid, Belgrade and Milan this month. The event today in Bogota — the heart of modern Colombia — is key for us as it illustrates the improving business inclusion landscape in Latin America.

Let me pause for a minute here and ask you all to make sure you tweet this event using the hashtags: #wetrade2018 and #Biz4LGBTI as in my experience if it is not on social media, it did not happen! We should make sure that the Latin American world knows we are here and we are open for business !

We are particularly honored today to be with such distinguished speakers and guests, from the government, civil society organizations, private sector, law firms, and media. Thank you for being here today. Our special gratitude goes to Felipe Cárdenas for his vision and the Colombian LGBT Chamber of Commerce (CCLGBTco) for making this event possible. I am happy to see this packed room indicating interest and concern in today’s topic.

I am here today to reiterate that there is nothing special about #LGBTI inclusion. My office is not trying to push a so-called “gay agenda” or creating special rights or markets for #LGBTI people as some opponents of Human Rights like to claim. The United Nations stands against all discriminations whether based on race, gender, religion, ethnic minority or any other category and that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Let me state here the obvious: that Human Rights is not an Anglo-Saxon construct, it is a universally adopted framework with deep roots in many histories, cultures, and traditions. They also have a deep impact on our everyday lives as Colombians well know.

As you know, the legal situation for LGBT people in Colombia makes it Latin America’s most advanced countries regarding LGBT rights legislation. In 2016, Colombia became the 24th country in the world to allow full marriage equality and in recent years has put in place laws allowing same-sex adoption and anti-discrimination protections. If there is one lesson from this legal leap forward by Colombia, it is that social change is possible: attitudes can change, prejudice can disappear!

Yet, in 2017, 109 members of the LGBT community were murdered. And LGBTI people still do not have fair agency, voice and participation in society and in companies. How can we explain that today you can only find a handful of lesbians and gay people in parliament, on boards and even in senior management? Or the fact that Avianca is the only Colombian company in the list of 200 companies that expressed support for the Standards I am presenting today.

These are facts that demonstrate the struggle for equality is not over. Our journey is not over. Despite the progress I mentioned, bias, stereotypes and negative views about gay people still largely prevent them from coming out.

The road to true equality stretches far ahead of us and the private sector can play a key role. We all need to do more, work harder, push further.

Let’s aim high. There’s no reason why Corporate Colombia shouldn’t become one of the best place in the world for LGBTI individuals leading the way in Latin America. And if everyone can work together to make that happen, the benefits will be felt widely and throughout the whole business world as there is unmistakable evidence that inclusive companies and economies perform better. In fact, I read recently that World Cup Countries with more LGBT rights tend to perform better.

The global standards of conduct for business that we are presenting today are intended to help companies here and overseas to meet their core human rights responsibilities and increase their role and impact in tackling discrimination against LGBTI people in the workplace and beyond. They are not rocket science. They reiterate the obvious but for many companies it is still a step they need to take.

They are the result of over a year of consultations with civil society organizations and hundreds of businesses — big, small, local, multinational — all over the world. Their premise is twofold. First, that all companies have a responsibility to respect everyone’s rights and to address discrimination, including as it affects LGBTI people. And, second, that companies have a golden opportunity to use their market presence, their access, resources and influence to contribute to positive social change wherever they do business.

I would like for a minute to pause and stress that point: business has a unique opportunity to foster social change on LGBTI issues. I witness every day how advertising campaigns, media content and collective actions by the private sector are shaping opinions and attitudes towards LGBTI people. It is not often that the private sector has such an opportunity to shape a better world, it should grab this one.

The role that companies can play — and the approaches that might be deployed — will vary depending on the social and legal context. But in all parts of the world, and irrespective of local laws and political dynamics, there are actions — five concrete actions clearly spelt out in the document — that companies can take both to shield LGBTI people from unfair treatment and challenge discriminatory practices both within and beyond the workplace. Through calibrated, concerted interventions, the corporate world can make a vital contribution to reducing stigma and prejudice directed at LGBTI people everywhere.

I am delighted to announce tonight that we have reached today 200 early supporters of the Standards with ebay, the multinational e-commerce corporation, joining some of the largest companies in the World. I am hoping that this is a beginning of a larger movement of companies globally taking a stance to end discrimination against LGBTI people globally.

Thank you for your attention.

#FriendlyBiz #Biz4LGBTI #WeTrade2018 #UNForumBHR #bizhumanrights



Fabrice Houdart

Fabrice is on the Board of Outright Action International. Previously he was an officer at the UN Human Rights Office and World Bank