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Jakarta Post

Why Indonesia'€™s investors should care about sudden spiral on LGBT rights

  • Todd Sears

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sat, February 13 2016 | 04:03 pm

In recent weeks, the climate for LGBT people in Indonesia has abruptly turned publicly hostile, with leading national figures calling for governmental action against LGBT organizations '€” a shift that should cause significant alarm for multinational corporations with investments and operations in the country.

LGBT discrimination is something the global business community takes extremely seriously. It negatively affects companies'€™ ability to recruit and retain top talent, and it can prevent companies from locating their best talent within countries with hostile environments for LGBT people. Companies have significant bottom-line-driven incentives to build inclusive organizations, which is why 89 percent of the Fortune 500 prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

As multinational corporations and investors continue to commit to adopting policies and building workplace cultures defined by inclusion of LGBT people, an Indonesia where discrimination is touted by public officials or embedded in the law will be increasingly out of step with the global economy. Indonesia'€™s investors should strongly question the economic implications of anti-LGBT laws and policies.

Controversy over LGBT groups at the University of Indonesia and other universities has boiled over. Individuals involved in the University'€™s Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies say that they'€™re being persecuted, while local activists have characterized the situation as a '€œpanic'€.

The chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council ( MUI ), Ma'€™ruf Amin, has confirmed that the government-sanctioned body plans to issue a fatwa ( edict ) recommending the prosecution of Muslims who join in LGBT-related activities. The MUI'€™s edict commission secretary Asrorun Niam said that LGBT activity is '€œdeviant'€ and that it could disrupt '€œlegal and social'€ order.

LGBT people have long faced an uphill battle in Indonesia. The Pew Research Center released data in June 2015 showing that as many as 93 percent Indonesians disagree with the notion that '€œsociety should be more accepting of homosexuals.'€

Public opinion is clearly a significant hurdle. But from the perspective of multinational businesses and investors, the current spike in governmental and quasi-governmental animus towards LGBT people is a particularly troubling and significant event.

A 2014 Williams Institute academic study of 39 emerging economies, including Indonesia, calculated that education, workplace, and health access discrimination against LGBT people acts as a drag on economic development. Indonesia was noted as a country that has regressed in recent years.

Indonesia already struggles to attract foreign investors. Anti-LGBT policies will negatively impact Indonesia'€™s ability to engage multinational corporations significantly; this is a mistake the country cannot afford.

In 2013, the Economist Intelligence Unit issued an alert documenting anti-LGBT violence and saying that '€œdemands by Indonesia'€™s homosexuals for recognition and the freedom to assemble regularly put the country'€™s brand of tolerance to the test.'€

Indonesia is currently facing that test. A judicious response that respects the place that LGBT Indonesians have in the economy can only benefit the country'€™s standing and reputation in the international business community. All eyes are on Jakarta'€™s leaders to make it clear to international investors that the country is open to business '€” for everyone.

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The writer is founder and principal of Out Leadership LGBT business organization.

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