The Beverly Hills Hotel, a Hollywood institution since 1912, is used to being the site of many celebrity events. These days, the city’s famous elite are keeping clear because of ties to the Sultan of Brunei.
In April, the country instituted strict Sharia laws that would result in harsh punishments against those found guilty of “crimes” like homosexuality, adultery and getting an abortion, punishments that include stoning people to death.
On Monday, Jay Leno stood beside protesters across the street from the iconic hotel, saying he wanted to “make people aware” of the injustice and the hotel’s ties to it. Ellen DeGeneres says she won’t be going to the hotel “until this is resolved.” Richard Branson, Sharon Osbourne and Rob Reiner have also spoken out against the hotel. The Feminist Majority Foundation, Teen Line (a helpline for teens), The International Women’s Media Foundation and The Night Before the Oscars party have all been pulled from the venue. The pre-Oscar party is one of the most-star studded of the year and has been held at the hotel since 2003, raising $60 million for charity over the past dozen years. According to a spokesperson for the hotel, a total of nine events have been canceled out of a total of 550 that the venue hosts each year.
Christopher Cowdrey, CEO of the Dorchester Collection, which owns the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, has been quick to respond, speaking to the media directly about the issue. But what he’s been saying is terrible.
From his perspective, while everyone has a right to protest, they’re directing their anger at the wrong people. This is an issue for the government in Washington. These cancellations and boycotts are hurting a local business.
“Why try and kill your local business? Your local business has absolutely nothing to do with this,” Cowdrey told Variety. Dorchester Collection is based in Britain and, according to Cowdrey, isn’t owned outright by the Sultan, but rather the Brunei Investment Agency, “the sovereign wealth fund that is the investment arm of the country’s ministry of finance.”
The Sultan “is not my boss,” he continued. But there is a connection.
There are 1,000 people working at the 112-year-old hotel, so they are the ones feeling the greatest impact, he maintains. The company follows the laws of the US and Europe.
When asked by CBS This Morning whether he supports the laws in Brunei, Cowdrey said, “No I don’t have any opinion whatsoever… I’m not prepared to comment on that.” The CBS anchors expressed a fair amount of disbelief about that response. Gayle King hit the nail on the head: “You know, I think I might have come up with another answer.”
The Beverly Hills Hotel, and by extension, the Dorchester Collection, are basically being called to account for the ties between its finances and the human rights violations that are being committed by its owners and investors. It’s bad enough that staffers are being impacted by this, but to then push them out front as a reason why the protests are misguided isn’t the answer.
And good, bad or otherwise, everyone has an opinion about whether or not people should be stoned.
In an ideal world, this uproar would lead to an overturning of these horrible laws. At the very least, customers and business owners can show they don’t support them. The Beverly Hills City Council voted by a margin of 5-0 to pass a resolution to either “denounce” the laws or sell the hotel. If the local government can come to an opinion Cowdrey and his company should be able to as well.
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