Time For the Meetings Industry to Have a “No Meet” List of Countries

I am sitting at my desk working and watching events unfold in Egypt.. I did the same last week when Tunisia went to hell in a hand-basket. I sit here wondering what it means for the meetings and events industry and our attendees and our meetings that have to be cancelled or moved.

That is when I had a thought… Why are we having meetings in countries like this in the first place? Why are we supporting regimes that oppress their people, suppress their rights and make their lives miserable.

A couple of years ago, I was against an MPI Meeting that was being held in Dubai, I was against this event because Dubai’s record on Human Rights is shaky at best. You can check out Wikipedia, they have a good rundown about Dubai (The U.A.E.), here is a snip:

The UAE does not have democratically-elected institutions and citizens do not have the right to change their government or to form political parties. In certain instances, the government of the UAE has abused people in custody and has denied their citizens the right to a speedy trial and access to counsel during official investigations.[2]

At the time, I felt that MPI holding an event here was a really bad choice and my reaction  caused quite the firestorm because people were saying that by meeting in Dubai, we were sharing our values and understanding of America and Americans.

I stand by my original opinion….

If you are a meeting and event professional and you hold a meeting in a country where the government is violent, oppressive and against their own citizens, then you are part of the problem. You are putting money in the hands of the despots that run these countries. You are one of the reasons that women are raped, children are denied an education and that violence reigns. YOU, yes YOU. Your meeting or event puts money in the pockets of the oppressors.

Meetings and events in developed, oppressive countries are like Blood Diamonds.

Don’t say that I am overreacting either, that would be a chicken shit answer.

I am here to say that it is time as an industry that we have a “No Meet” list. We need to pledge to say NO, that we will no longer support the oppression of our fellow man by holding a meeting or event in countries that are on the list.

There will of course be differences of opinion, there will be questions about where to draw the line.

What country should be on the “no meet” list. Would the United States qualify because of Guantanamo? Would Israel qualify because of the West Bank? Would Russia qualify because of Chechnya? Would India qualify because of Kashmir? How about China??

These are good questions and I think that the answer is very complicated. Russia is not like Tunisia, Israel is not like Sudan, India is not like Myanmar, Turkey is not like Egypt and the United States, for all of our faults, does try and is nothing like North Korea.

I want to give you an example of who would be on my “No Meet” list… Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Venezuela and Sudan would certainly be on there and I will have to give a hard look at China and a host of others. I don’t know…it gets very, very tough. Cuba for example, for all of their bad, would not make my “no meet” list  because Castro is on the way out and change will happen rapidly there once he goes.

There is a difference between countries and I think that the answer, although unsatisfying, is much like Justice Potter’s quote regarding pornography:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it“.

What is reassuring is that, as meeting and event professionals, we are smart enough to know the difference and we must make our own judgements about what countries we will or will not hold meetings and events in. It is ok to have different opinions and I will not threaten to put cross-hairs on you if I disagree with your choice nor will I call for second amendment remedies if you choose not to take part in a “no meet” list. You will simply know that you have blood on your hands for doing nothing.

One thing is crystal clear, it is time for us as an industry to stand up and pledge to make the world a better place and really do it. It is time as individuals and it is time as a group. Our industry associations don’t have the spine to do it…….so we are on our own.

The time has come to say that we cannot do this anymore, we cannot continue to support evil regimes, terrible governments and awful human rights abuses. I don’t care what others are doing, I am talking about the meetings and events industry.

It is up to us, the meetings and events industry, to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem. If we continue to do our business  and supply the money these regimes need to survive and thrive, then we are just as much to blame as anyone.

Who should be on the list? What is your opinion? Is a “No Meet” list a lofty goal that can never be accomplished or do we have the power to help bring change?

(Image from the Huffington Post, go there for live updates)

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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