Companies should offer reporting processes to prevent and address harassment and discrimination in the workplace against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex (LGTBI) individuals, according to a report by the United Nations. The report, Corporate Standards of Conduct on Tackling Discrimination Against the LGBTI community’, launched by Godrej Industries in association with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that companies should also protect those who report such abuses from retaliation.
The report said that companies should take active steps to prevent, protect against, and eliminate discrimination, harassment (external or internal) and violence directed at LGBTI individuals. It added that in India, firms such as Godrej, Genpact, Intuit, ThoughtWorks, Microsoft, and Google have taken a public stance against Section 377 of the country’s penal code, which criminalizes same-sex relationships.
Parmesh Shahani, Head, Godrej India Culture Lab said that diversity and inclusion has been important to the group and they have been driving various activities against it. “We are hoping that the corporate community takes these standards and implements them in the organisations in the best possible way,” he added.
At present, companies in India are required to have a cell where complaints of sexual harassment against women can be registered and investigated. However, no other mandatory cells for discrimination against LGBTI community are required as per law.
According to the report, some concrete steps companies may consider include analyzing travel exposures, developing commuting policies, and educating employees on safety risks. In exceptional cases, the report said, companies may consider arranging for escorts to accompany targeted LGBTI employees.
Section 377 of IPC has been a topic of debate because it criminalises sexual intercourse against the order of nature with a man, woman or animal with imprisonment of up to 10 years. However, nowhere does the law say that it is crime to be a lesbian or a gay individual in India, nor does it prevent companies from taking steps for inclusion of everyone.
Mahnaz Shaikh, Head of Diversity, India & SAARC, GCPL said that these standards will be beneficial for the entire corporate world and it helps the growth of companies and the country. She added that a lot of the practices has been taken from the interactions that have occurred in places like Mumbai where Godrej was a part of.
The Godrej Group, she added that, has various policies that promote gender equality such as equal medical, hospitalization expenses, leaves, travel and transfer allowance towards LGBT employees as provided to any other employee in the company.
Further, employee benefits such as maternity/paternity or adoption leave are also provided to the employee and their dependents irrespective of the gender. Regular workshops are hosted with an agenda of sensitizing this issue for their employees across functions and teams
The five standards, as per the report, include respecting human rights (including LTBTI), eliminating discrimination, providing support, and preventing human rights violations and acting in the public sphere.
A 2015 World Bank study focused on India found that discrimination against the country’s LGBT community cost the country up to 1.7 percent in potential gross domestic product, the equivalent of USD 32 billion. In 2017, UNAIDS released a study estimating the global cost at USD 100 billion per year.