The story has gone viral: George Clooney has called for a boycott of the nine luxury hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei in an effort to protest the country’s new law which condemns homosexuals and adulterers to death. Two of these hotels are in Paris, the Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice, and even if the American movie star has not left the two hotels vacated, he managed to spur a global debate on the decision of this oil-rich Asian micro-state to enact such a medieval Islamic law.
George Clooney used an economic weapon for this purpose by establishing a direct link between a stay at a luxury hotel and an unequivocal complicity in human rights violations by the owner of the hotel. These politically motivated economic sanctions are a powerful weapon that has proven particularly effective in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. They mix ethical, religious, economic and political dimensions.
Though less publicized but much larger in scale, another case symbolizes this complex geopolitical economic boycott. Brazilian agribusiness, a key supporter of President Bolsonaro who is currently on an official trip to Israel, is pushing to prevent him from moving the Brazilian Embassy to Jerusalem. This is despite what his other precious supporter, the Evangelist Church, wants to be done.
Political and religious battles on an economic level
Brazil is the largest producer and exporter of halal meat. Sales to Arab countries exceeded $11 billion in 2018, with Egypt accounting for most of the profit. As early as November 2018, it threatened Brazil with reprisals and boycotts if it yielded to Israel's demands. Now Brazilian agribusiness fears it will lose out on its primary market.
Whether luxury hotels or halal meat, the message is the same. Political and religious battles are taking place today on an economic level. They testify to a global connectedness that links a Western luxury hotel to a regressive Asian Muslim regime and the halal meat consumed in Arab countries to its overwhelming origins in Brazil. It is another facet of globalization that these boycotts call into question for ethical reasons.
Anne-Catherine Husson-Traore, @AC_HT, CEO of Novethic