lifestyle

LGBT’s retail hell: Despite progress, sector lags behind

17 Comments
By Maxine Cheyney for BCCJ ACUMEN

Diversity in the workforce is a contentious issue that historically has faced multiple barriers worldwide and continues to do so. Nevertheless, the business case for diversity is that, ultimately, it will provide access to a greater talent pool, as well as fresh ideas.

And this is no different in the retail industry, which, as a public-facing sector, arguably has an important role to play in changing attitudes in society, as well as representing the communities served by shops.

In the UK, great strides have been made over the past two decades to eradicate discrimination in the workplace in a range of industries, with legislation having been passed to tackle discrimination based on ethnicity, gender and nationality. But in this area, Japan is trailing behind. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, there are no legal prohibitions on discrimination in the workplace, and only nascent supportive policies.

The politics

In Japan, government policy is focusing on the importance of women in the workplace as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s signature economic policy, Abenomics, and its “third arrow”. But there has been no move to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, in either the workplace or other areas of society.

Japan is still at the initial stage of the fight for the rights of the LGBT community in the workplace. This is the position in which the UK found itself in the 1950s and ’60s, when various committees were formed to promote legal and social equality for the LGBT community. In 1977, the first gay and lesbian Trades Union Congress conference took place in the UK, to discuss rights in the workplace.

Then in 1996, the UK case P v S and Cornwall County Council was brought before the European Court of Justice. It became a landmark case, in which it was ruled that an employee who was about to undergo gender reassignment had been wrongfully dismissed.

A further milestone followed in 2003, when the Employment Equality Regulations became law in the UK, making it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay and bisexual employees in the workplace.

In Japan, however, progress has been much slower, with sexual orientation still shrouded in controversy.

It was only this year that Japanese political parties—the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and Seikatsu no To—submitted a bill to the Diet seeking to eliminate discrimination against LGBT people. But this bill, to ban discrimination by businesses and local governments based on gender identity and sexual orientation, is still undergoing deliberation.

Progress in retail

That said, advances in the law do not necessarily equate with increased acceptance in practice.

Although British firms and organisations have made significant progress, with the Security Service, better know as MI5, named as the UK’s top LGBT employer by Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers ranking for 2016, no retailers are on the list.

Of the retailers that are taking a stance, however, Lush, the British cosmetics firm, has been at the forefront of the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community.

The Lush #GayIsOk campaign, launched in July 2015, was an initiative that spoke out against Russia’s anti-gay law. The “We believe in love” campaign that followed was dedicated to the issues faced by the LGBT community in Japan.

Lush then implemented “Partner Registration”, which allows same-sex couples to benefit from the same incentives and bonuses as their heterosexual counterparts. Clauses referring to “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” were added to the non-discriminatory recruitment policy, and the gender part of job application forms was removed.

The Japanese online retailer Rakuten recently implemented spousal benefits for same-sex partners. Previously, these had been enjoyed solely by heterosexual married couples.

Meanwhile, many large, non-retailing firms are providing a model for others to follow. Unilever, with brands that fill shop shelves the world over, is one such example. In both the UK and Japan, it is making efforts to incorporate policies to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

“As a global policy, the Code of Business Principles sets out that all Unilever employees must treat everyone fairly and equally, without discrimination on the grounds of gender, gender identity and/or sexual orientation”, explained Shinmyo Tsukasa, assistant communications manager at Unilever.

The firm has gone as far as to have a Code Hotline for employees to use around the clock 365 days a year, to report any breaches of this policy.

Under the slogan “Let your colours shine”, Unilever Japan launched a new programme in September. Called “Unilever Pride Japan”, it lends further support to sexual minorities in the firm. Initiatives of the programme include expanding the LGBT talent pool and fostering an LGBT-friendly and inclusive work environment. This has included marriage and bereavement leave, as well as special payment for marriage and condolences for same-sex partners.

“We also organised an ally group to promote LGBT-friendly culture within Unilever and Japanese society”, Tsukasa said, adding that they “plan to gradually expand HR policies to parents and children of same-sex partners, along with changes in local laws and regulations. Meanwhile, we are ready to provide further support on request”.

Local efforts

This year, non-profit organisation work with Pride (wwP) published an index that evaluates corporate efforts to support inclusiveness for LGBT employees and sexual minorities. Sony Corp. turned out to be one of wwP’s top entries, and Unilever Japan was also ranked Gold.

The index includes “Policy”, “Representation”, “Inspiration”, “Development” and “Engagement/Empowerment” as factors that firms need to consider.

There are now a myriad of other non-profit organisations—such as Tokyo Rainbow Pride, ReBit and Human Rights Watch—that are starting to speak up for the LGBT community in Japan, fighting political and social barriers from the ground up.

When asked about the difference between the acceptance of LGBT-related policy at Unilever in the UK and Japan, Tsukasa explained that, “it is difficult to compare, because the acceptance or application of LGBT policies are influenced by many different factors, including local laws, regulations and culture”, concluding that “diversity and inclusion are a part of our organisational culture”.

It seems that, until these issues are incorporated into the culture of firms, there will continue to be difficulties for members of the LGBT community within the retail trade and other businesses.

Custom Media publishes BCCJ ACUMEN for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


17 Comments
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Who'd a thought MI5 would be the top LGBT employer in the UK? Good that Unilever are doing this too. How many pop stars are openly gay in Japan? With the cult of celebrity being what it is I am sure a few outs or even supportive words from a Kyary or an Arashi would go a long way towards acceptance.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

MI5, the NHS and the public sector in general are much more LGBT aware than other employers. The armed forces and the police rank highly too.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Still not sure why a person's relationship and sexual preferences are such an issue is the workplace.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Because, even though it is unnatural for a man to have sex with another man, they don't want to be penalized (pun intended) for it or chastised or made fun of. They want to be considered normal no matter how perverted they may act.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

In the UK, great strides have been made over the past two decades to eradicate discrimination in the workplace in a range of industries, with legislation having been passed to tackle discrimination based on ethnicity, gender and nationality. But in this area, Japan is trailing behind. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, there are no legal prohibitions on discrimination in the workplace, and only nascent supportive policies

I take issue with this paragraph as I think its insinuating that Japan has caught up with the west when it comes to tackling discrimination based on ethnicity, gender and nationality, yet only lags behind on LGBT rights. It lags behind on all of these issues, not just LGBT..

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Although I believe that same sex marriage is morally wrong, I don't believe that people's personal lives are relevant to the workforce. Workplace discrimination is therefore illogical.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

An awfully misleading headline. Retail is no better or worse (and certainly not "hell") than most other industries in this respect--it's an issue for business in general.

How many pop stars are openly gay in Japan?

I honestly can't think of a single one, though there are always rumors.

I don't believe that people's personal lives are relevant to the workforce. Workplace discrimination is therefore illogical.

Try being an LGBT individual in any company with a hyper-macho culture and see how you feel then.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Not sure of why the article focuses on retail - surely this discrimination pervades the whole of business and society generally. However it is nice to see that some companies are doing more to provide a more welcoming environment.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Try being an LGBT individual in any company with a hyper-macho culture and see how you feel then.

I wouldn't fit in a hyper-macho culture, but I am not LGBT. So do I still get special rights? Companies all have their cultures and their politics. Do we keep searching for ever smaller groups of square pegs trying to fit into round holes, or do we just accept that there are places we would rather not work?

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

wakarimasen,commanteer, I agree.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Although I believe that same sex marriage is morally wrong, I don't believe that people's personal lives are relevant to the workforce. Workplace discrimination is therefore illogical. Of course personal lives are relevant to the workforce! Example: My employer gives 3 days bereavement leave when a parent-in-law passes away. I'm legally married in Canada to a same-sex spouse. Without company policy or government policy, my only options in Japan are to take holiday-leave which my heterosexual co-workers wouldn't have to take (discrimination), to work while my husband attends the funeral alone, or to out myself and ask for special permission to attend the funeral of my parent in law, in a country that provides no protections for LGBT people.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Talk about forward thinking. How about teaming up all these diverse group under Abe third arrow which is still in his quiver. Make it law that the arm and civil force have a quoter of 40 % in both admin and deployment for women and remove any barriers discrediting a LGTB applicant. It would give the local law force a personality which they desperately need.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It is hell for the transgenders, just slicing off the male bits doesn't make the the dresses fit correctly. Takes many years of constant drug therapy and feminizing surgery, and laser hair removal. Actually sounds like a great economic stimulus idea!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

As a gay person working in Japan, I think I have more experience than a lot of you who are debating about “illogical laws” in the work place despite most of you not having nor ever will having to deal with this kind of discrimination.

If it has no place in the workplace then can my co-workers please stop asking me when I am going to find a nice wife, my type, or if I’m gay or not? If so then sure I will keep my mouth shut. But why should I keep on having to lie or deceive people? Having to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. What if I want to tell people I have found an amazing person in my life? Not feeling like I have to dodge bullets every single time there is a drinking party. Small things that many of you probably take for granted.

Oh wait, that's right. If I did that then I would probably become a laughing stock to most, or seen as "kimoi" by others. Possibly even lose my job in some cases?

But yeah, sure. Down with discrimination against foreigners working in Japan! But LGBT?! That's just illogical!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I hope in the future, LGBT people can gain more social recognition, marry others and be truly accepted by the masses.Especially bisexual people.It was rejected by heterosexuals and rejected by homosexuals.As a result, many bisexuals are isolated from society and have used some bisexuality dating apps (www.meetbisexulcouples.com) .Especially bisexual people.It was rejected by heterosexuals and rejected by homosexuals.So, a lot of bisexuals are isolated from the society, have used some bisexuality dating apps, and 80 percent of them have mentioned this.I hope society will make progress in the future.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Glad to hear this news, as a bisexual hope for social progress!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It is hell for the transgenders, just slicing off the male bits doesn't make the the dresses fit correctly. Takes many years of constant drug therapy and feminizing surgery, and laser hair removal. Actually sounds like a great economic stimulus idea!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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