More businesses cut ties with Brunei over gay-sex death penalty

VIDEO: REUTERS

LONDON • Travel agents, London's transport network and finance houses were among a rising number of companies to cut ties with businesses owned by Brunei to protest against the sultanate's introduction of the death penalty for gay sex and adultery.

The small Muslim-majority country last Wednesday rolled out further Islamic syariah laws that punish sodomy, adultery and rape with death, including by stoning, and theft with amputation, sparking a global outcry.

The move prompted a corporate backlash after actor George Clooney and singer Elton John called for a boycott of hotels owned by the South-east Asian country, including The Dorchester in London and The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

STA Travel, a global travel agency owned by privately held Swiss conglomerate Diethelm Keller Group, said it would no longer sell flights on national carrier Royal Brunei Airlines.

"We've taken this stance to add our voice to the calls on Brunei to reverse this change in the law and in support of LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex) people everywhere," the company said.

Virgin Australia Airlines, the second-biggest airline in Australia after Qantas, ended an agreement that offered discounted tickets on Royal Brunei Airlines for staff.

Royal Brunei did not respond to requests for comment.

 
 
 

Transport for London, which is responsible for London's transport system, said it was removing advertisements promoting Brunei as a tourism destination from the city's public transport network due to "great public sensitivity".

Deutsche Bank banned its staff from staying in the nine luxury hotels of the Dorchester Collection, which is owned by Brunei's state-owned Brunei Investment Agency (BIA).

BIA did not respond to a request for comment. The UK-based Sovereign Wealth Centre estimates the BIA has US$39 billion (S$52.8 billion) of assets under management.

The Dorchester Collection made a public appeal, saying its values were "far removed from the politics of ownership".

"We understand people's anger and frustration, but this is a political and religious issue that we don't believe should be played out in our hotels and amongst our 3,630 employees," the Dorchester Collection said in a statement on its website.

But this did not prevent numerous organisations moving their events elsewhere.

British estate agent Knight Frank, property industry networking group Movers and Shakers, which has about 300 corporate members, and property investment firm Landsec said they would not use Dorchester Collection hotels.

 
 
 

The backlash also spread to universities.

More than 50,000 people signed a petition calling on Oxford University to rescind an honorary degree awarded to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, the world's second-longest reigning monarch and prime minister of the oil-rich country.

The university's information office said it shared the international condemnation of Brunei's new penal code and backed the United Nations' call to stop this entering into force.

"At present, the university has not taken any decision on rescinding the Sultan of Brunei's 1993 Honorary Degree of Civil Law by Diploma," the university said in a statement.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 07, 2019, with the headline 'More businesses cut ties with Brunei over gay-sex death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe