The boycott dilemma

We're not big believers in travel boycotts to solve the world's problems. As we've pointed out before, they often do a lot of damage to innocent bystanders.

Boycotting a destination because of some failing of its government, for example, often means reduced earnings for service workers who depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

Still, we understand the impulse, especially now.

The latest boycott to hit the headlines involves the upscale Dorchester Collection, which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air in California as well as its namesake Dorchester in London and other luxury properties in Europe.

Nobody has a quarrel with the management, but they have a big gripe with the owner, the sovereign wealth fund of Brunei, a country that has decided to institute sharia law, under which the maximum penalty for homosexual sex would be death by stoning.

This is indeed alarming enough to warrant protest, even for those disinclined to participate in a boycott.

Because Brunei presents few visible targets in the U.S., the hotels are in the spotlight.

This has prompted Dorchester Collection CEO Christopher Cowdray to note that employees don't get to choose their owners, and shouldn't have to suffer.

In an interview with the entertainment industry publication Variety, he suggested that protesters turn their attention to official Washington, which might be in a position to actually do something.

That is a fair suggestion, but as of last week the U.S. didn't seem to be doing much.

A State Department spokesman revealed at a briefing last week that Secretary of State John Kerry "has not spoken with the sultan since the law was announced. Our ambassador has relayed our concerns privately to the government of Brunei."

Meanwhile, no warning or advisory was posted to the department's travel pages, which as of last week stated matter-of-factly that "Brunei's Sharia Criminal Code, which has not yet been implemented, increases the possible penalty for men convicted in Sharia court of having sex with another man to a maximum penalty of death by stoning and lesser penalties of caning and imprisonment of up to seven years."

The statement adds that "punishment for LGBT sex acts has not been actively enforced." That may be, but maybe it's time for the diplomats to take this to the next level, before Brunei does.
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