For the last 8 years, global celebrity and football icon David Beckham has been the face of Haig Club, a blended whisky brand owned by drinks giants Diageo that’s sold around the world. He’s prominently featured on the brand’s website and has participated in many ad campaigns as well. Haig Club is also the official whisky of Beckham’s Major League Soccer club, Inter Miami.
Before the Qatar world cup, Beckham was also praised for his progressive outreach with his LGBTQ+ fans and groups. Over the years, he has spoken openly about connecting with LGBTQ+ fans, supported Blackpool soccer player Jake Daniels when he came out as gay, and in 2002 was featured on the cover of Attitude Magazine, a British gay lifestyle publication.
Now, he is under fire from these same groups and fans, as well as Attitude itself. Here’s the problem, as stated by the magazine:
“With a decision that arguably wipes out 20-plus years of allyship, Beckham signs a £10 million deal to become an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup-hosting Qatar — despite the country’s myriad human rights abuses, including the death penalty for Muslims caught having gay sex.”
In fact, this number may even be closer to £150 million, covering £15 million a year over the next 10 years as he promotes tourism and culture in the country.
Beckham’s also not had a great start with the new job so far, and has already pushed some shoddy greenwashing. In a recent video, he praises the Qatar world cup’s sustainability record when, in actual fact, the original report making the claim of carbon neutrality has been widely panned for underestimating the tournament’s carbon footprint.
Though the criticism of Beckham has mounted since he signed the Qatar contract in 2021, it gained further steam recently following strong condemnation last week from the England national team’s largest LGBTQ+ supporters’ group, Three Lions Pride. Adding fuel to the proverbial fire, British comedian Joe Lycett released a viral video where he challenges Beckham to drop his new job or he’ll publicly shred £10,000 in cash that he would otherwise pay to a LGBTQ+ football charity.
Given Beckham’s prominence as the face of a global whisky brand, I suggest Diageo issues a challenge similar to Lycett’s: If Beckham doesn’t reject his well-paid Qatar gig he should be dropped as Haig Club’s frontman.
The logic is simple – a prominent whisky brand partner willingly representing a government with such a poor human rights record isn’t compatible as the face of a brand owned by a company with a strong LGBTQ+ record.
In support of my stance: Through his endorsement of Qatar, Beckham is also breaking company rules.
Diageo’s human rights policy applies to “Third party contractors, agents or consultants representing or acting for or on behalf of Diageo”, which therefore includes Beckham. The policy itself states that Diageo acts according to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Relevant to this situation are Principles 11 and 13b:
“11. Business enterprises should respect human rights. This means that they should avoid infringing on the human rights of others and should address adverse human rights impacts with which they are involved.
13.The responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises:
(a) Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur;
(b) Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.”
With Principle 11, Beckham as an active representative of Diageo is promoting a state that actively ‘infringes the human rights of others’. It’s “sportswashing” in action.
13b addresses Diageo’s awkward situation. The company isn’t involved in human rights abuses in Qatar, but its business relationship with Beckham makes this point relevant.
To date, Haig Club and Diageo haven’t said anything about their brand partner’s latest role representing Qatar. That’s a lost opportunity given the company’s strong record promoting diversity and inclusivity within the company as well as its public support for LGBTQ+ rights and representation.
For example, in 2022 Diageo rolled out an extensive pro-LGBTQ+ campaign around the world as part of Pride Month, including in countries where homophobic attitudes are a serious problem, through its internal Rainbow Network resource group. Diageo brands involved included Smirnoff and Ciroc vodka as well as Johnnie Walker. Earlier in the year, the latter provided significant funding and archival research support for the UK’s first national museum dedicated to LGBTQ+ history, Queer Britain in London.
These are just a number of laudable campaigns Diageo has been involved in and there are others – it is clearly a company that has not been afraid to take a public stand on LGBTQ+ issues.
So to continue as a leader in corporate diversity and inclusion, Diageo should reconsider its close business relationship with a figure contracted by a country where homosexuality can be punishable by death. Especially if that figure is its most famous brand representative.
Diageo is currently bending too far for Beckham. If Beckham sticks with representing Qatar, it’s maybe time for him to be dropped from the Diageo team.