Sir Elton John today delivered a keynote speech at the 12th YES Annual Meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine about the role of business in promoting human rights. He told a packed audience of business leaders and politicians: “I want to talk about the important role the business community can play in creating a new paradigm of inclusion -- one that benefits individuals personally and society at large, and one that is also uniquely good for business”.
The 3-day 12th YES Forum entitled “At Risk: How New Ukraine’s Fate Affects Europe and the World,” organized by YES, in partnership with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, is taking place in Kyiv, Ukraine, concentrating on determining how Ukraine can become a force for global stability and European values in today’s volatile global context, building on the revolution of dignity, and addressing the challenges that arose from the annexation of Crimea, the conflict in the East, and the urgent need to reform the country’s financial, economic, legal, civic and security sector.
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Talking about building a tolerant country Sir Elton headlined the session on ‘Tolerance and Human rights - Responsibility of Business and Social Leaders’ for which he said homophobia was a key litmus test: “I suggest to you that your stance on human rights will also be a defining characteristic of the new Ukraine, and that there is no clearer touchstone on the issue of human rights than the respect and dignity afforded your LGBT citizens”.
He pushed for tolerance not just as a human right but as good business sense: “Being tolerant and inclusive is not only the morally right thing to do, for the new Ukraine it is the smart thing to do. Basic fairness is an investment in human capital, and human capital is what drives business”.
Elton, who has played two huge open air concerts in Kyiv in 2007 and 2012 to raise awareness of the country’s AIDS epidemic, and whose Foundation has supported over 40 HIV programmes in the country since 2001, said turbulent events in Ukraine’s recent history presented ‘more moral choices’ and that business had a critical role to play in protecting diversity: “Laws which protect human rights are good for business. They promote diversity. They expand the talent pool. They allow employers to hire and retain the best and the brightest. They ensure a workplace where employees feel comfortable and feel valued. People are more productive. Diverse, open workplaces encourage creativity, innovation and new ideas”.
He urged the assembled audience of 350 business leaders to build a tolerant community: “Please protect the human rights and basic dignity of the people who show up to work for you. They deserve it. You have the power to help bring about this new era. I'm asking you to use that power wisely, to seize this opportunity, and to guarantee human rights for all. You can choose to make this part of Ukraine’s future and change its legacy for generations to come. This is not a fantasy, recent events have shown it is a very real possibility”.