Sun, Apr 07, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Businesses cut relations with Brunei over severe laws

Thomson Reuters Foundation, LONDON

Travelers walk near a Royal Brunei Airlines billboard promoting Brunei as an “abode of peace” at a Taipei MRT station on Wednesday.

Photo: David Chang, EPA-EFE

Travel agents, London’s transport network and finance houses were among companies on Friday that cut ties with businesses owned by Brunei in protest over the Sultanate’s introduction of the death penalty for adultery and gay sex.

The Muslim-majority former British protectorate on April 3 rolled out further Shariah laws that punish sodomy, adultery and rape with death, including by stoning, and theft with amputation.

The move prompted a corporate backlash after actor George Clooney and singer Elton John called for a boycott of hotels owned by Brunei, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley 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 people everywhere,” it said in a statement.

Virgin Australia Airlines 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 ads promoting Brunei as a tourism destination from the city’s public transport network.

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 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 Web site.

This did not prevent numerous organizations moving their events elsewhere.

British estate agent Knight Frank, property industry networking group Movers and Shakers, and property investment company Landsec said they would not use Dorchester Collection hotels.

As well as owning the hotel group, the BIA holds about 4 percent of London-listed digital tech venture capital firm Draper Esprit PLC, which it acquired last year.

Draper Esprit CEO Simon Cook said that the company “naturally abhors” the moves in Brunei, but added that the BIA bought shares on the open market and has no “influence either on our company culture or our investment decisions.”

The backlash also spread to universities.

More than 50,000 people signed a petition calling on the University of Oxford to rescind an honorary degree awarded to Brunei Prime Minister Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

The university’s information office said they shared the international condemnation of Brunei’s new penal code.

“At present, the university has not taken any decision on rescinding the Sultan of Brunei’s 1993 honorary degree of civil law by diploma,” it said in a statement.

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