The economic cost of discrimination against sexual minorities
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on March 25, 2015.
There is a strong economic case for halting discrimination against sexual minorities and, as unlikely a candidate as it may seem, the generally conservative World Bank is initiating a project to prove it.
The World Bank’s mandate does not extend to actually influencing the politics of member countries, indeed it is expressly prohibited from doing so in the Articles of Agreement, however it is undertaking serious economic research into the connection between discrimination against LGBT individuals and the affect that has on economic growth. The results could bring about change ‘through the back door’ via lending policy backed by robust data.
The research project has its roots in an earlier project undertaken in 2012 in India, which gathered data regarding sexual minorities to measure the cost of discriminating against members of these communities. It was partially funded by a grant from the Nordic Trust Fund and the findings were published in a report which concluded that ‘stigma and exclusion of LGBT people are likely to generate economic costs’. However, there is not yet concrete evidence to link discrimination to gross domestic product.
Proving this link would give the World Bank significant leverage in discouraging discriminatory legislation against the LGBT community in countries seeking loans, and its Development Economics Special Initiatives Unit, which will oversee the research, hopes that this new project could provide the proof needed.
This news will obviously be welcomed by LGBT workers around the world, especially in countries with draconian laws criminalising homosexuality. You don’t have to look too far for examples. Kyrgyzstan has benefitted from World Bank loans to the tune of over $40m yet only last month approved a bill criminalising so-called homosexual ‘propaganda’. Similarly, Morocco, a country in receipt of loans totalling $649m from the World Bank, has recently been criticised for a spate of recent convictions of homosexuality.
Just how involved the World Bank should get in human rights issues is a topic of much internal debate. Generally the organisation shies away from taking a stance against discrimination although some members of top management are calling for the consideration of human rights to become a more integral part of the decision-making process. They argue that making discrimination a strictly financial issue, backed by hard data, could have a significant influence on governments seeking World Bank loans.
To paraphrase Philip Alston, U.N. Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, it could force governments to choose which they hate more, losing a hundred million dollars or sexual minorities.