In 2015, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held a conference on business and LGBTQIA+ rights. During that period, there were reports of employment discrimination. In the global business landscape, The Economist organised a symposium titled ‘Pride and Prejudice: The Business and Economic Case for LGBT Diversity and Inclusion’ in 2016. This event sparked ongoing discussions about the role of the private sector in supporting LGBTQIA+ rights. Social movements have become an essential communication strategy for the LGBTQIA+ community to express their pride. [1]

Initially, such activities were driven by activists commemorating incidents of opposition and violence, highlighting equality and fairness. However, the increased support from private sector funding has positively impacted LGBTQIA+ events and significantly empowered the community. This investment has proven beneficial, adding value to organisations and brands, and gaining greater acceptance from consumers for their products and services.

The LGBTQIA+ community is now seen as a new customer segment that businesses must understand and target, recognising their modern tastes and purchasing power. This shift is a testament to capitalism becoming a significant force in advancing LGBTQIA+ rights, compared to earlier political mechanisms focused on gaining support from political parties and politicians. Over time, political support led to LGBTQIA+ representatives’ engagement in government, but there is now a trend towards business sector involvement, especially evident in the United States. The importance of genuine support for LGBTQIA+ rights by businesses cannot be overstated.

The Economist’s #EcoPride Pride and Prejudice project [2] further exemplifies this, encouraging organisational leaders and executives to endorse LGBTQIA+ policies in business.

Government mechanisms in developing countries have yet to effectively address these issues, leaving most initiatives to activists and civil society groups, which are insufficient and slow to respond. For example, Thai society’s acceptance of LGBTQIA+ diversity is gradually increasing, but not rapidly, regarding rights. However, consumerism and tourism are quickly adapting to meet the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. For example, certain companies or industries provide training on inclusion and diversity to support the LGBTQIA+ community. During pride parades, many private companies seize the opportunity to support and create a buzz around LGBTQIA+ rights, raising questions about their genuine commitment versus market exploitation.

What are some examples of companies accused of engaging in Rainbow Washing? The term “Rainbow Washing” is becoming more widely recognised on a global scale. It refers to companies that use LGBTQIA+ symbols like the rainbow flag for marketing purposes without genuinely supporting LGBTQIA+ rights. It can be seen in changes to logos, advertisements, or products during Pride Month without sincere support or advocacy with LGBTQIA+.

One way to gauge company’s genuine support is through the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI) in the US. [3] This index evaluates companies’ policies and practices supporting LGBTQIA+ employee equality, covering non-discrimination policies, comprehensive health benefits for transgender employees and their families, inclusive culture, and corporate social responsibility.

In 2023-2024, a total of 545 companies scored a perfect 100 on the CEI out of 1,384 participating companies, which is an increase from the previous year. The index also included 128 new companies from various industries joining the evaluation. Significant progress includes adopting transgender-inclusive policies, with 90% of companies having non-discrimination policies based on gender identity and 73% offering transgender-inclusive health insurance. The CEI also emphasises creating benefits guides for LGBTQIA+ employees.

The top-ranked companies on the CEI come from diverse industries and regions across the US, representing employers in all 50 states. As HRC marks 30 years of workplace inclusion for LGBTQIA+ employees and families, standards remain for corporate allies. This year’s survey was complicated due to legislative attacks on transgender and non-binary individuals and increased anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment targeting corporate allies. These challenges highlight the ongoing struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights and the importance of continued business support.

Despite these challenges, a total of 545 businesses met the new criteria and scored 100 points, earning the 2023-2024 Equality 100 Award from HRC for their leadership in workplace inclusion. Additionally, more companies scored 90+ points, indicating a strong commitment to inclusion and using the CEI as a foundational guideline for gender equality in the workplace.

The current CEI rating criteria had four key posts:

  • Non-discrimination policies across business entities;
  • Equitable benefits for LGBTQ+ workers and their families;
  • Supporting an inclusive culture; and,
  • Corporate social responsibility.

The HRC’s CEI report, primarily based on an annual survey of major employers worldwide, shows significant progress. In the first index of 2002, only 13 companies scored 100 points, compared to 545 this year. Business sector education, training, and policies on gender diversity and inclusion have improved workplace inclusion for transgender individuals, ensuring employees know their rights and benefits.

If companies invested in participating in such global equality indices, it would provide evidence of genuine support for LGBTQIA+ rights. Moreover, aligning with international standards could ensure a consistent approach and contribute to the global advancement of LGBTQIA+ rights. Although aligning with national laws might take time, measuring and evaluating companies with international standards would demonstrate severe and sincere support for LGBTQIA+ rights.

Kath Khangpiboon is a PhD student at the Doctoral Study Programme (DSP) of Social Work, Faculty of Social Studies, University of Ostrava.

[1] Standards of Conduct for Business: Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, & Intersex People. Online. 2023. Available from: [citation 2024-06-04].
[2] Pride and prejudice. Online. 2014. Available from: [citation 2024-06-04].
[3] Corporate Equality Index 2023-2024. Online. 2023. Available from: [citation: 2024-06-04].