When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

When Laws and Meetings Collide: Go, Stay or Boycott?

Years ago, working in-house as a planner and later in my own business, I worked with groups whose policies sometimes conflicted with laws or social justice issues, in locations under consideration or under contract for meetings. It was important to the groups to know the laws that might impact their meetings and whether or not they should even consider a destination.

I worked with an attorney to develop clauses (sadly, lost to the ages since they were on paper, not even on a floppy disk!) about how the group and hotel would handle these issues if laws were passed after a contract was signed. It was not an easy negotiation but usually, once explained, it was possible to negotiate and contract fair conditions for the parties.

I think about those days often as companies and associations continue to look at similar types of issues and decide where they will spend their money. Then, like now, it was all about where to hold the meeting and what food to serve. During the years of the boycotts brought on by the work of the late Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers, a number of clients were specific in their contracts about the source of the food served. There are a number of groups now that, like then, determine where to go based on the status of organized labor in the destination and venues.

Most recently, so-called "religious freedom" laws like North Carolina’s HB2 and Tennessee’s counseling law (seen as anti-LGBT) caused meetings and concerts to cancel. Companies like PayPal decided to not open a new operation in North Carolina costing the state jobs and income. When Georgia was considering a bill similar to the one passed in North Carolina, even the NFL said they would relook at Atlanta as a site for future Super Bowls. 

In the not distant past, a client, because of bylaws and mission, had to decide if they would hold a meeting in Arizona after that state passed SB1070 (also known as “Papers Please” law). Others have faced similar issues over reproductive laws. You might remember a certain hotel company that was boycotted because of apparent racial profiling (one that I thought was out of business but is still around and running into similar issues again), the states avoided because they flew a Confederate flag, and groups that won’t book a specific hotel company because they don’t allow AEDs in their owned, managed or franchised hotels.

Each group—corporate or association, not-for or for- profit—has to determine what issues impact their decisions about what hotel company or hotel owner with whom they will do business, what local or state laws will be in sync with or in opposition to their mission, bylaws and polices, and what will impact the organization’s image. 

In an article in the April issue of Meetings Today and a subsequent webinar about site selection, a number of concerns were discussed, this among them. It certainly seems that the "religious freedom" laws have caused the most angst lately for groups (See this month's Friday With Joan interviews and links of "must read" articles in the newsletter for more on those).

In many discussions about boycotts, issues explored include those of the legal termination of a contract, the moral (are we hurting more people by terminating a meeting or boycotting a city/state/company than we are by going?), and the tactical (is there time and ability to move a meeting?). Do boycotts change things? Sometimes. Certainly Rosa Parks’ actions did. And in other cases, they hurt as they are at Malaprop’s Bookstore & CafĂ© in Asheville, N.C.   

I don’t have answers about what is right, wrong, moral, ethical or legal. When you read the interviews, use them to start or continue a conversation in your organization about where your meetings are held. I recently made a personal decision to teach for UNCC and provide education for a client in North Carolina. I can use these laws as discussion points to help others learn what we must consider when we book or terminate meetings. 

What I know we have to do:

  1. Be aware of the news, pending laws (on issues, on taxes), and other conditions (infrastructure) that impact where and how we hold our meetings.
  2. Know your organization's mission, bylaws, policies, ethics and other principles to know what would cause a conflict in where you book.
  3. Include contingency planning on what to do if laws are passed after contracts are signed.
  4. Follow @MeetingsToday's tweets and other news sources and know what matters to your employer or clients so you can be the source for information.

As always the views expressed are my own and may not reflect those of the publisher, Stamats, and the publication, Meetings Today. For comments, email me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com or respond in the comments section below. Also check out my related Q&A with legal experts.

Click here to view (and share) the full July 2016 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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