Dorchester Collection boycott calls grow due to Brunei law

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The Dorchester Collection, whose luxury properties include the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, last week found itself the target of still more calls for boycotts, as municipalities, human rights groups and even fellow industry members joined the growing protest over the decision by Dorchester's owner, the government of Brunei, to enact laws making homosexual sex punishable by death.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, whose companies include the Virgin-branded airlines as well as the pending Virgin Hotels division, and cruise-sales website www.cruise.co.uk joined entertainers such as Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Fry in condemning the May 1 decision by Brunei's leader, Hassanal Bolkiah, to adopt Shariah law, the Islamic moral and religious code. That law, among other things, makes consensual sex between homosexuals punishable by death via stoning.

"No Virgin employee nor our family will stay at Dorchester hotels until the sultan abides by basic human rights," Branson wrote in a May 3 tweet.

In a May 6 statement, www.cruise.co.uk wrote, "This law was barbaric fifteen-hundred years ago, and nothing has changed to make it any less so today."

Dorchester Collection executives continued to insist that their 10 hotels worldwide do not practice discrimination and abide strictly by the laws of the countries in which their hotels operate. Dorchester CEO Christopher Cowdray argued that the calls for a boycott were misdirected and that his company was being unfairly singled out for the practices of its ownership.

"While we recognize people's concerns, we believe this boycott should not be directed to our hotels and dedicated employees," Cowdray said in a statement. "American companies across the board are funded by foreign investment, including Sovereign Wealth Funds."

Still, a Cowdray interview published by Bloomberg News last November appears to have spurred a wider call for opposition. Cowdray said at the time that Dorchester, whose other properties include Paris' Hotel Plaza Athenee, Milan's Hotel Principe di Savoia and Rome's Hotel Eden, was looking to expand into cities such as New York.

In a May 8 statement, Chad Griffin, president of the Washington, D.C.-based LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said, "New Yorkers from all walks of life should have one simple and straight-forward message for the sultan: Take your business elsewhere."

Meanwhile, city council members in Beverly Hills, whose 102-year-old namesake hotel opened two years before the city itself was incorporated in 1914, unanimously adopted a resolution to urge the Sultan of Brunei to sell the iconic property.

The U.S. State Department appeared to take a wait-and-see approach to the idea of supporting a boycott of either Dorchester or travel to Brunei itself.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said last week that the department had "very serious concerns" about Brunei's decision to adopt Shariah law, but she said no action had been taken. The State Department also noted Brunei's Shariah criminal code on its U.S. Passports & International Travel website under the heading "LGBT Rights."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last week that boycotting was an "acceptable" method of protesting, but she stressed that the agency had not taken a position on a proposed boycott of Dorchester hotels, nor had it imposed any restrictions with regard to department staffers staying at one of the group's properties.

Brunei, which is located on the north coast of Borneo, has a population of about 412,000. As a result of its oil and natural-gas reserves, it is listed by Forbes as the fifth wealthiest nation in gross domestic product per capita. The country acquired London's Dorchester Hotel in 1985 and the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1987, forming what would become the Dorchester Collection in 1996.

Brunei also owns the Grand Hyatt Singapore.

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