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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why passage of civil unions is good for business

By john webster

Many of us who practiced in the field of government relations in the 1970s were inspired by the work of the Baptist minister, the Rev. Leon Sullivan. Author of the Sullivan Principles, his leadership in 1977 brought 140 signatory companies in line with initiatives that would refuse to follow the rules of apartheid in South Africa. The Sullivan Principles encouraged businesses to refuse to accept laws and customs that impede social, economic and political justice.

Many of us who practiced in the field of government relations also drew encouragement and comfort from the work of Common Cause, the bipartisan public interest group founded by John Gardner and committed to open and honest government.

Last Thursday was a lesson in leadership and good government. It was a day that would have given John Gardner and Leon Sullivan faith in our legislative process had they been around to watch the Hawai'i Legislature end the session with a long-postponed vote on House Bill 444.

Was it sneaky, as suggested by The Advertiser's editorial on May 2? While it may appear so to some, I believe it was, instead, a political and human reaction to the overwhelming case for justice that the bill's proponents brought to the table, time and time again. Now was the time to vote and now was time to recognize and address fundamental injustices that were simply too obvious to too many for too long.

I have had the pleasure of an executive career in international corporate government relations for two very large global businesses. In recent years, I also had the good fortune to apply some of what I have learned there to the development of leaders first as head of the Nanyang Fellows Program in Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and more recently as head of an entrepreneurial program here in Honolulu.

From Brussels to Hong Kong, from Washington to Honolulu, from large businesses to small, a few of the lessons learned seem particularly apt to the clamor over last week's passage of HB 444, which calls for recognition of civil unions in Hawai'i. Simply put:

People on the right and people on the left want clean government and civil liberties for all.

Businesses of all size thrive when governments are clean and their employees and partners and clients are afforded basic civil rights and civil liberties.

Entrepreneurs come in all sizes and all shapes and all persuasions and are at their most creative when their operating environment is open and honest and predictable and when their most important assets people are free to achieve without the pressures and indignities of civil abuse.

It is not open and honest government and it is not leadership, when legislators and businesspeople avoid controversy on issues of fundamental social justice for fear of the political or economic consequence. Social justice and equal rights are what we teach our students. They expect the same from their leaders.

Last Thursday, the House of Representatives demonstrated its commitment to both. They deserve our congratulations and our thanks.