As Boycott Continues, Beverly Hills Hotel Tries to Turn Focus to Employees

Beverly Hills Hotel protest Sultan of
David McNew/Getty Images

More than a month after the boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel boycott was launched, a counter-campaign has been gaining visibility, making the argument that the action is merely hurting the workers.

But the groups that are pushing the boycott contend that the parent company of the hotel, the Dorchester Collection, is “using its employees as human shields in a desperate attempt to deflect criticism of the Sultan,” in the words of Jeff Krehely, VP and chief foundation officer of the Human Rights Campaign.

What is clear is that the boycott, which gained steam earlier this month when Jay Leno and others held a rally across the street from the fabled property, is having an impact. Once-bustling lunch business at the Polo Lounge has slowed to a trickle, while other hotels including the Four Seasons appear to have gained business.

The protest is over the Sultan of Brunei’s plans to implement Sharia law in his country, and is targeting hotels owned by the Dorchester Collection, which is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. Others being boycotted include the Hotel Bel-Air.

The hotel has been taking to social media to make the point that the boycott is hurting employees. A Facebook page, We Are the Beverly Hills Hotel, asks the public to “Stand With Us,” while a YouTube video showcases the diversity of its workforce.

“We also respect the right of all Americans to protest,” the Facebook page says. “But we respectfully request that all those who are boycotting the Beverly Hills Hotel review the facts and weigh the consequences and benefits of their actions.

“While the hotel has pledged to protect us by maintaining wages and making up for lost tips, the uncertainty of how long the boycott will last and the countless lost opportunities to work overtime or earn more tips significantly and negatively impacts us. At the end of the day, this boycott targets us, our families and our livelihood.”

The Facebook page has received almost 6,500 “likes.”

HRC, the Feminist Majority, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and GLAAD are among the organizations leading the boycott, and their campaign has already triggered the threat of legal action from the Beverly Hills Hotel.

After they ran ads in Variety titled “Don’t Sleep With the Sultan,” attorneys for the hotel sent a cease-and-desist letter to the groups as well as Variety, claiming that the hotel owned exclusive rights to the picture from Niall Clutton.

“The sole purpose of the letter was to inform the parties who purchased and published the advertisement that they were using our photograph without permission — the same sort of action that Variety’s lawyers routinely take to protect Variety’s intellectual property,” a spokeswoman for the Dorchester Collection said in an e-mail.

The groups have followed with another ad, this one titled “Shame on the Sultan” and accusing him of using employees as “human shields to deflect criticism,” which ran in the Hollywood Reporter.

“The fundamental truth is that profits from these hotels belong to a regime that could start executing women and LGBT people as soon as next year,” Krehely said in a statement.

As HRC continues to push the boycott — this week it highlighted Anna Wintour’s pledge not to stay at any of the hotels — the entertainment industry’s shunning of the property has not been universal. Russell Crowe recently said on Twitter that “throwing the staff of Dorchester Collection Hotels under the bus to make a political point is not acceptable to me. These are hard-working people with families and I guarantee you they come from all walks of life.”