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“Prosperity Through Diversity” International Virtual Conference on Human Rights in Business

“Prosperity through diversity” is the title of the first virtual International Conference on Human Rights in Business, organized by Greece on Thursday, 25th June 2020 under the auspices of the Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. The Conference focused on the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community, stressing the fact that respect and inclusivity in the workplace bring prosperity to both businesses and society.

Alternate Foreign Minister for European Affairs and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, opened the Conference which was addressed by the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the Vice President of the European Commission for the Promotion of the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schoinas, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada, Robert Oliphant, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic and the CEO & Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, Sanda Ojiambo.

The program featured three panel discussions:

1.      “Government: Building Inclusive and Diverse Societies”

2.      “Business: Corporate Responsibility and Opportunities in Promoting Diversity and Human Rights”

3.      “Society: Guaranteeing a Safe and Enabling Civil Society for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights”

The Conference was attended by politicians, business executives and international organizations officials, as well as representatives of the civil society.

More than 1300 people attended the conference virtually. Most participants watched from European countries with Greece ranking first, followed by the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the majority of participants were in younger age groups, with roughly one third of them (33.5%) in the 25-34 age group and another third (27.5%) in the 18-24 age group.

In his opening remarks, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek Prime Minister, presented two proposals: a) to establish a new role for monitoring and observing Human Rights in Business at European level, and b) to set up a specific agenda emphasizing on the rights of the LGBTQI+ community.

Erna Solberg, Norway’s Prime Minister, pointed out that inclusiveness is not just about doing the right thing. It has economic value for businesses, creating a competitive advantage in attracting the best employees. The Norwegian Prime Minister concluded saying: “After all, love is love”.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights referred to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that: “Businesses are losing revenue resulting in job losses for millions and the people who are being worst hit are people who are often exposed to multiple risks, women, people living in extreme poverty, indigenous people, migrants, IDPs and refugees, people with disabilities and members of the LGBTI community”. Ms. Bachelet stressed the importance of businesses for the recovery of our societies by leveraging their role as “a critical force in support of cultural understanding, building bridges between cultures and people through economic opportunities”.

Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director UN Global Compact, stressed that there is a huge gap between aspirations and actions. “There is a long way from policy commitment to concrete actions”.

Finally, Robert Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada, conveying a message from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, who saluted “today’s historic event on human rights in business” and wished “the greatest success in growing an even more prosperous Greece, more prosperous Europe to the recognition and the celebration of diversity”.

The message of the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “In Canada we have moved forward in significant ways because respecting each other’s rights is foundational to a country which understands that differences should and can always be a source of strength, never a source of weakness. That we’re stronger and more resilient when different identities, different communities come together round a shared vision of a stronger future, of a better neighborhood, of a better country for us all and that is truly what we are celebrating."

In the first panel discussion entitled “Government: Building Inclusive and Diverse Societies”, Alex Patelis, Chief Economic Adviser PM’s office Greece, mentioned that including decision makers from diverse backgrounds leads a company to better decisions.

Robert Oliphant, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, stressed the fact that regulations and legislation “only have a limited impact on social attitudes”.

Janina Hasenson, Deputy Director and Legal Counselor in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, referred to the two Human Rights units in Finland’s Foreign Ministry: “Our job is to make sure that Human Rights are part of everything that the Foreign service is doing, whether it is development, trade, and traditional foreign and security policy. It’s our job to make sure that our policy is coherent at all multilateral organizations, the UN, the Council of Europe and of course when we are dealing bilaterally with various countries”. 

Irena Moozova, Director for Equality and Union Citizenship in European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers presented the Commission’s policy for LGBTQI+ equal rights: “We are very vigilant to ensure that LGBTQI+ persons and their families enjoy their rights without discrimination in the whole of the European Union. We are preparing ambitious LGBTQI+ equality strategy for the end of the year” and called on all the “member states, civil society, and businesses to step up for LGBTQI+ equality”.

In the second panel discussion entitled “Business: Corporate Responsibility and Opportunities in Promoting Diversity and Human Rights” Theodosis Michalopoulos, CEO Greece, Cyprus & Malta
MICROSOFT talked about Microsoft’s program for gender and sexual minorities which tries to build awareness and move people from apathy to advocacy and added “something I’m always reflecting on: If we are not actively including, then probably we are excluding”.

Nieves Delgado, Vice President for Spain, Portugal, Greece & Israel, IBM underlined that IBM’s policies for LGBTQI+ “involve mentoring, zero tolerance for our managers and our leaders. One of the best practices though is a sponsorship from the top. You need to believe it, you need to lead by example”.

Vasilios Psaltis, CEO of Alpha Bank, stressed that diversity should become an integral part of the whole value chain of the banking process.

Irene Nikolopoulou, CEO of Wunderman Thompson, stressed that it is needed to set targets for the LGBTQI+ community. She said, “we need to create sustainable change, more than just posting on Instagram”.

In the third panel discussion entitled “Society: Guaranteeing a safe and Enabling Civil Society for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights”, Markus J. Beyrer, Director General of Business Europe, referred to the COVID-19 pandemic calling it “the deepest crisis since the last World War” and stressed that “we need an ambitious investment package to kickstart our economy and there’s no time to waste […] we also support and encourage all our member companies to take advantage of all the talents available in labor markets irrespective of their gender, of their race, of their sexual orientation, or their religion”.

Fabrice Houdart, Managing Director in Out Leadership, conveyed his view that “companies are going to change and capitalism is going to change. Something that I love to tell companies when I come to Europe is that change is not mandatory, because survival is optional. The only companies that will survive are the companies that will show they are doing something to contribute to a better world”.

Kristine Garina, President of European Pride Organizers Association highlighted the fact that sometimes it is difficult for LGTBQI+ people to even recognize being discriminated at work, as they are so used to be marginalized.

Evangelos Chouliaras, Communications Officer Thessaloniki Pride agreed with Alex Patelis that there is a lack of public figures openly gay, both in Greece and the Balkans.

In his closing remarks, Gregory Dimitriadis, Secretary General for International Economic Affairs, MFA Greece, pointed out that “An open, democratic society is not a utopia. It can be achieved.” and announced the establishment of an international working group aiming to produce a meaningful roadmap that will ignite change. 

The link to watch the International Internet Conference on "Human Rights in Business":