Celebrities push Brunei boycott over anti-LGBT law– will it work?
Hollywood is getting into the act as a number of celebrities called for a Brunei boycott over the country’s harsher criminal law punishing same-sex sexual acts.
Specifically, these celebrities– led by Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney– are boycotting the hotels owned by the sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah.
However, this makes us ask: do these boycotts work? Will it have any effect on this small, oil-rich Southeast Asian nation?
Brunei boycott: Who’s boycotting what?
Under the hashtag #BoycottBrunei, a number of luxurious hotels worldwide are being targeted by protests. These include The Dorchester in London, as well as The Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air in LA.
Other hotels in list include; Coworth Park in Ascott, 45 Park Lane in London, Le Meurice in Paris, Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris, Hotel Eden in Rome, Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan.
Aside from Ellen and George, celebrities supporting the boycott include Elton John, Bobby Berk, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Billie Jean King.
Ellen said on her Instagram: “We need to do something now. Please boycott these hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Raise your voices now. Spread the word. Rise up.”
Meanwhile, Elton admitted that the boycott would affect the employees of these hotels, including those who were gay, but said a message needs to be made against Brunei’s new law.
In response to criticism by TV host Bill Maher on the boycott’s effect, George said: “You can’t make the bad guys be good, but you can stop the good guys from being complicit.”
Curtis tweeted her support of George, saying he’s “doing the right thing, fighting an unjust and barbaric law.”
Brunei boycott: Do boycotts really work?
This is not the first time the Sultan’s hotels were targeted by a boycott. When Brunei first pushed for harsher criminal laws in 2014, Hollywood called for a protest as well.
Elton said: “That’s why David and I have long refused to stay at these hotels and will continue to do so. We hope you will join us in solidarity.”
George said in a guest column on the Deadline website: “I’ve learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can’t shame them.”
“But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way,” he said.
However, Paula Gerber, Director of the not-for-profit organization, Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation, writing in The Conversation, said boycotts don’t normally work.
“For one, they can cause the offending government to harden its position to show it will not give in to foreign pressure,” Gerber said.
“That can make it harder to work collaboratively with leaders of that country to actually improve the situation,” she explained.
Brunei boycott: Other protests
Human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have already voiced their protests.
“We are alarmed that the code criminalizes behaviour that should not be considered crimes at all,” said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues.
Cockburn added: “The international community must continue to condemn Brunei’s decision to put these cruel penalties into practice.”
Likewise, protesters have rallied in front of The Dorchester hotel complete with placards and LGBT flags.
LGBT and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told Sky News: “What is particularly shocking about the sultan’s actions is that he is basically copying the punishments that were implemented by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
STA Travel, Deutsche Bank, and Virgin Australia Airlines have announced cutting ties with Brunei-owned businesses. The University of Aberdeen and King’s College are considering revoking the honorary degree they gave to Bolkiah.
In response to the boycott calls, the office of Brunei’s Prime Minister defended their right to implement its laws “like all other independent countries.”