IBM leads talks to tackle India's gay sex ban

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Some of the world’s largest corporations, including IBM, Dell, Google and Citigroup, are to meet in India to discuss strategies to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff after the country recently outlawed gay sex.

IBM will sponsor the talks in coming months amid concerns staff could be persecuted as a result of the controversial legislation.

Last December, the Indian Supreme Court reinstated a ban on gay sex, which had been legal since 2009. The draconian law carries a 10-year sentence for offenders. The move was widely condemned by the international community as a breach of human rights.

Claudia Brind-Woody, IBM’s vice president and managing director of global intellectual property licensing, told HR magazine companies have a moral obligation to ensure the wellbeing of staff in countries where their rights are under threat. 

“Stonewall and other NGOs can only do so much,” she said. “It’s the power of our corporate brands, when we put them together and go into a country that's hard (on LGBT staff), which allows us to have that convening power, to have the dialog, to discuss why fundamental human rights are important, not only from a social justice perspective, but just from a business perspective. It's good for business." 

Brind-Woody said she expects all IBM staff to behave professionally towards colleagues and customers. To ensure this happens, IBM offers online courses to train straight allies and promote workplace equality.

“It’s a formal course that people throughout the world may take and certify as a straight ally, so they understand what it means to be a straight ally and how they support their LGBT employees,” she said. “This is just part of our ongoing training.”

"We’re making sure that we’re sharing best practices of how to enable our LGBT employees in the workplace in India to feel welcome to succeed, to make sure that they have the support, to make sure we're doing things like training straight allies.

IBM employs 116,000 employees in India and has scored 100% on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for 12 consecutive years. Yesterday, the computer giant was awarded Stonewall’s 2014 Global Employer of the Year for equality in the workplace.    

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