Not one to avoid opining on social topics, Databasics CEO Alan Tyson today addresses another. This time he (sort of) commended big companies that ended their patronage of hotels owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, an entity controlled by the Brunei government, which recently enacted new policies that violate human rights. Even if the motives aren’t pure, Tyson contends the boycott still matters.

Under intense pressure from celebrities like Elton John, George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres, a growing number of banks are boycotting the Dorchester Collection hotel group, owned by Brunei’s investment agency. J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citi and other institutions, long known for their rectitude, are directing their employees to book rooms elsewhere. At issue are Brunei’s repulsive new laws that impose death by stoning for LBGTQ sexual activity.

If decency is not the universal value that many of us grew up to assume, it is gratifying to see that it still matters in this world. Even if the motives of these organizations are more nuanced than simple moral outrage, the boycott clearly has Brunei’s attention.

Of course, there is not a great deal of sacrifice in renouncing the Dorchester Collection. Without properties like the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, bank employees will still have comfortable alternatives.  No one will be forced to sleep in a dumpster.  

Alan Tyson, Databasics
Databasics CEO Alan Tyson

In fact, a hotel boycott is just a slap on the wrist compared to the knock-out punch these financial behemoths are capable of delivering. Will they escalate their sanctions if Brunei persists in its vicious bigotry? The answer probably depends upon how much business the banks would lose if they were to inflict serious pain on Brunei’s sultan.

The case of Saudi Arabia is instructive. It has been widely reported that the Saudis engage in assassinations, beheadings, crucifixions, arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, torture and other human rights abuses. Last October, they were rightly suspected of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. The furor over his disappearance was so great at the time that CEOs of many major corporations cancelled their participation in an investment conference dubbed “Davos in the Desert.” Among those who cancelled were the CEOs of J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. Still, not wanting to miss out entirely, they sent lower-ranking representatives.

Apparently, these two companies viewed attending the conference as a conflict between public relations and Saudi relations. Their solution, basically “a wink and a nod,” seems to have worked out for them. It’s probably fair to say that their calculation was void of any real consideration of right and wrong. Is this what is going on with the Dorchester boycott? Is it essentially a gesture to get out from under a PR cloud at an acceptable cost?

So what if it is? We should welcome the boycott, such as it is, if it can do some good. Sometimes people end up doing the right thing even when that’s the furthest thing from their minds.

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