JPMorgan Chase CEO & Chairman Jamie Dimon. JPMorgan is sponsoring an upcoming gala that will honor Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. (Image: FORTUNE Global Forum Flickr)
Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right president of Brazil, has attracted condemnation from across the world because of his open misogyny, homophobia, and racism. Now, some corporations are pulling their sponsorship from an upcoming gala in New York City that will honor Bolsonaro.
But not Wall Street.
The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce is set to host a gala on May 14 to celebrate Bolsonaro as its 2019 “Person of the Year.” The gala was originally scheduled to take place at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, but the Museum cancelled the gala’s reservation due to outrage that a science and nature museum would host a president intent on rolling back protections of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for mining and agribusiness corporations.
The gala is now set to be held at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. (CNBC has pointed out that the hotel’s decision to host the award ceremony for Bolsonaro seems to contradict company’s statements in support of LGBTQ right.)
In the face of growing pressure, several original corporate sponsors of the gala, including Delta Air Lines, Bain & Company, and the Financial Times, have pulled their sponsorship. But many well-known banks, hedge funds, and other companies – discussed more below – have not.
Bolsonaro has a history of making extremely homophobic and misogynist remarks. For example, he told a newspaper in 2002: “I will not fight nor discriminate, but if I see two men kissing in the street, I’ll hit them.” He told a Brazlian Congresswomen in 2003: “I would never rape you, because you do not deserve it … slut!” (You can read a compilation of some of his other remarks at the Intercept).
Bolsonaro has also been condemned for opening up Amazon’s rainforest to big corporations whose mining and agribusiness operations could further degrade and destroy it. Major questions also exist over Bolsonaro’s family connections to the mafia, as well as to the 2018 assassination of Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco. Bolsonaro has also praised Brazil’s U.S.-backed dictatorship – including its torture of leftists – that lasted from 1964 to 1985.
Bolsonaro’s popularity has plummeted in the few months since he has been in office. This makes the upcoming gala all the more important for him, since it will offer a chance for his administration to seek more support from corporate America in the face of Bolsonaro’s growing isolation.
By sponsoring a gala that honors Bolsonaro, major banks and Wall Street firms – including household brands like Bank of America and JP Morgan, and the powerful private equity firm Blackstone – are helping to prop up Bolsonaro’s legitimacy and power.
What corporations are sponsoring the gala honoring Bolsonaro?
A host of major U.S. banks and hedge funds remain sponsors of the gala that will honor Bolsonaro.
- Big U.S. banks: JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citi, BNY Mellon, and Morgan Stanley are all gala sponsors. Other major banks that are headquartered outside of the U.S. but have significant U.S. operations include Santander, HSBC, UBS, and Credit Suisse.
- Blackstone: The Blackstone Group, the powerhouse Wall Street hedge fund led by billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman is a 55% owner of Refinitiv, a financial markets data firm that is sponsoring Bolsonaro’s award dinner. Schwarzman is worth $14.6 billion and is a major Trump ally.
Other notable sponsors of the gala include:
- Forbes and Thomas Reuters: Media empire Forbes is a gala sponsor, and Thomson Reuters is a 45% owner of Refinitiv, a sponsor.
- UnitedHealth Group: A major U.S. for-profit healthcare company that the U.S. Justice Department has accused of overbilling Medicare by billions of dollars.
- Law firms: Shearman & Sterling and McLarty Associates are powerhouse law firms that works with businesses and in international affairs. McLarty, in particular, sells itself as a firm of former ambassadors and diplomats that “understand the complexities of international markets and help our clients navigate the strategic and operational challenges they face around the globe.”
Here is a full list of the corporate sponsors, provided by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, which is calling on companies to pull their sponsorship from the gala (the gala’s official page that lists sponsors now appears to be down).
When pressed on why it was continuing to endorse the gala, UBS stated that “[a]ttending the dinner has never involved selecting or endorsing the honoree in any way.”
While it may be true that the gala’s corporate sponsors were not involved in selecting Bolsonaro, many would argue that their refusal to now revoke their sponsorship from the gala – in the face of growing demands to do so, and with the fact that other businesses have begun to pull back – does represent an implicit endorsement of who the gala is celebrating.
Moreover, many of the corporate sponsors have issued human rights statements that appear to fly in the face of backing an event that honors someone like Bolsonaro. For example, Bank of America states that “our company policies and practices promote and protect human rights, and we strive to conduct our business in a manner consistent with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and other international agreements. Many would argue that Bolsonaro’s regime is a clear threat to the human rights of LGBTQ people, among other groups.
There is precedent for the gala’s sponsors to revoke their support. Last year, dozens of companies – including some who are now sponsoring the Bolsonaro gala – pulled out of a Saudi investment conference that was scheduled in Riyadh shortly after the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This added to the sense of urgency around Khashoggi’s death and contributed to the global condemnation the regime of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
There are other examples, too, of corporations using their leverage to fight the kind of homophobia and transphobia that Bolsonaro’ espouses – for instance, the corporate opposition the so-called “bathroom bills” in Texas and North Carolina.
For now, Delta Air Lines, Bain & Company, and the Financial Times have all revoked their sponsorship of the gala honoring Bolsonaro. Will Bank of America, Blackstone, JP Morgan, and others follow?
Correction: This article and the accompanying map originally identified Veritas Capital as a sponsor of the gala. We’ve learned that there is a Veritas Capital Management in Brazil that is the actual gala sponsor. We’ve removed the reference to the New York-based Veritas Capital in the article and map.