“I would urge other companies worldwide to follow suit.”
By Melanie Nathan, Dec 24, 2013, 8:41 am.
Richard Branson, was about to do business with Uganda when he changed his mind. The Virgin founder said Uganda must abandon the recently passed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would make homosexuality punishable by up to life in prison. Unless the Bill is abandoned, Uganda, according to Branson will find itself “ostracized by companies and tourists worldwide”.
“I have been courted by various people and government officials to do business in Uganda. I was seriously considering it,” Branson wrote on his website on Monday.
“However, the dreadful witch hunt against the gay community and lifetime sentences means it would be against my conscience to support this country.
“I would urge other companies worldwide to follow suit. Uganda must reconsider or find it being ostracised by companies and tourists worldwide.”
He added: “Governments must realise that people should be able to love whoever they want.”
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill outlaws sexual interactions between same-sex partners, with a sentence of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of homosexuality. A proposal to put the punishment to 14 years in jail was rejected by the legislators. The Bill also makes it illegal to “promote” homosexuality, an ill-defined and very wide term, as well as implements a 3 year prison terms for anyone who fails to turn in and report a known homosexual to police. The Bill far exceed the current and more vague Penal Code criminalization of homosexuality, with explicit terms and harsh sentences.
The stupidity of the law actually will make it impossible to do business in Uganda for Western corporations. It will conflict with the existing corporate hiring practices of many of these companies. It will also place staff at risk of arrest.
Many corporations, such as Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America, have open and diverse hiring practices, where they actively recruit LGBTI people as part of diversity programs and where they refuse to discriminate in hiring. Facebook, Google, Barclays Bank, other banks, hotel chains, airlines, etc., some of whom operate in Uganda and others who do business with Uganda, all have pro LGBTI hiring policies.
Notwithstanding the matter of principle, imagine how impossible it will be for all such businesses to operate in Uganda, when portions of the hiring pool are considered criminals in a particular country. How does one send a manager or an executive or any employee into a country risking arrest of that employee if he or she fails to abide Ugandan law by outing a fellow worker?
And so Branson’s call for boycotts make sense and are well founded.
The Private Member Bill is not yet law. The President, Museveni, does not have the right to veto the bill. But he can assent to it. However, if he refuses to assent to it, it then goes back to parliament, for another reading, where if passed by a two third majority, will automatically become law. The LGBT activists in Uganda have vowed to continue to protest the bill and have indicated that they will challenge the constitutionality of the Bill at the appropriate time.
Uganda currently boasts one of the most robust tourism industries in Africa. However the Ugandan anti-gay community would rather risk this than let go of the anti-gay bill. In the words of MP and author of the original Kill the Gays Bill, David Bahati, Ugandans would rather not have the business of the West, than have to put up with the “Western ideas of morality.”
In this case it would seem that the Ugandans are fully aware that passage of their bill will isolate them and have a huge impact on tourism. Many airlines and many hotels will simply not be able to operate in Uganda and tourists will probably choose other countries such as South Africa which has a fully inclusive Constitution, and perhaps magnificent Namibia and Botswana, which although left with draconian penal codes, do not actively arrest gay people.
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