Vodafone, Škoda among Czech firms signing open letter to PM pushing for marriage equality

Vodafone CEO Petr Dvořák

Vodafone CEO Petr Dvořák presented an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Petr Fiala at a press conference on Wednesday signed by 66 Czech firms urging the government to introduce marriage equality. The letter cites both the economic and social reasons why the legislation is important for Czech society, and for the global image of the country. I spoke with Dvořák about why he felt it was necessary for private firms to take action.

What was the moment that you decided you wanted to write this open letter?

“We have three pillars in our purpose: digitalization, protecting the planet, and inclusion. I’ve been with this company for six years at the helm, and there have been situations where I have had to stand up to protect people because of their race or sexual orientation. Now just felt like the right time to raise awareness and bring support to show the Prime Minister that it’s not only him trying to push the law in the government and in parliament, but that there are companies that are standing behind and requesting the support for their employees.”

Sixty-six companies have signed this open letter, what kind of message do you think it is going to send to the Prime Minister’s office?

“I think it’s quite a strong message given the signatures – there are big companies and small companies, major ones like Škoda who are a big employer. Given the amount of employees that these companies employ I hope it’s a sufficient signal for the Prime Minister that there is enough support. Research also shows that 60 percent of the Czech population supports equal marriage rights.”

Petr Dvořák  (Vodafone CEO) and Aleš Bernášek  (Strategy Deparment) | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

It was mentioned in the press conference that not having equality can be an economic detriment to employees. Do you think this will be a convincing factor, that this is hindering economic growth and performance?

“I hope so, and that’s why we purposefully centred the letter on economic benefits. This topic has been with us for so long because it’s such an emotional topic, and if we abstain from the emotions behind it and various extreme perspectives and focus on the economic implications for society, this should be a clear rational for the Prime Minister to push through this law.”

Have you received any push back from companies who have argued that this isn’t an issue private firms should be touching?

“I have to say that I only had one company declining to sign the letter, and their prime concern was not wanting to get involved in politics, not necessarily that they don’t support the issue. So I think that there is not a huge pushback from companies, it’s just a question if people are willing to stand up and visibly support it, or if it’s more of a quiet support. I hope that there will be more support then pushback.”

How hopeful are you that this initiative will make a meaningful impact and possibly impact policy decisions in parliament?

“I hope so, and I am so happy there are 65 other companies that are standing behind the letter and supporting it. It’s reassurance that it’s the right thing to do, and it should be a reassurance for politicians that they are not getting support only from within their party, but also from employers across the country who see it as an important step.”

Petr Dvořák,  Aleš Bernášek,  Martina Zimmermann  (Škoda Auto Diversity Coordinator) and Czeslaw Walek from "Jsme fér / We are fair" iniciative | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

If marriage equality were to be achieved here in Czechia what do you think it would do for the country economically and socially?

“If you look at the top countries in terms of economic progress, the ones at the top already have these inclusive laws, so inclusion is key for economic development in society. I think it also goes along with the moral values of the society, so I hope this is a signal that we are maturing as a society, and the benefits will not only be within the community of the Czech Republic, but will also help attract talent from outside Czechia. And not to say we would only be attractive to LGBTQ+ folks, but it’s a good signal to people coming from outside the society that you see Czechia welcomes differences, whether cultural, sexual orientation, race, or language.

“We are not that welcoming as a society, and we cannot survive within our economic environment without immigration. So this is a good signal to not lose people from the Czech Republic because of discrimination, but really show that we welcome people from different cultures which will only enrich our society.”