California is a leader on women’s rights and the rights of the LGBTQ community. We led the effort on the “Me Too” movement to provide women with a safe workplace, and pushed for equal pay and opportunities for women. In 2016, California took a bold step to ensure that other states followed our social justice policies when then-Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1887 into law. The law calls for the state to “take action to avoid supporting or financing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) people.” It prohibits state employees from traveling to other states that discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, and eleven states are currently on California’s travel ban list. 

While the goal is to influence gender equality and social justice policies in the United States, California turns a blind eye when it comes to the world stage, especially when it comes to energy. Between 1980 and 2018, California more than doubled its imported oil, growing from 177 million barrels to 364 million barrels annually. What is especially disappointing are the basic human rights policies of countries providing oil to California, such as Angola, Columbia, Ecuador, and the countries of the Middle East.

Several countries in the Middle East still consider it a crime to be a member of the LGBT community. According to a 2018 article in The Economist, while same-sex activity is technically legal in Iraq, Islamist militias and vigilantes impose their idea of justice. Groups have been known for gruesomely murdering people suspected of being gay by throwing them off of buildings and stoning them to death. The same holds in Saudi Arabia, where same-sex relations remain illegal. According to a 2019 Wall Street 24/7 article, first-time offenders often receive lashings for their punishment. Still, flogging or even execution is possible depending upon the “perceived seriousness” of same-sex relations.

Unfortunately, women’s rights worldwide are not much better. It all starts with education. For example, literacy rates in Angola are 58% for women, compared to 84% for men. In Iraq, the illiteracy rate is doubled for women since there are fewer educational opportunities for girls. The education discrepancy leads to workplace inequality, where in Saudi Arabia, women are less than 7% of all management positions. In some cases, fundamental rights are ignored. For example, in some extreme Islamic faiths, all women must have a male guardian (father, husband, sibling, uncle), and going against the guardian’s wishes is punishable with prison time. 

When workers organize to push back on such issues, the results have not been favorable. According to the Pulitzer Center, more than 2,800 labor leaders and union members have been killed in Columbia, with roughly 90% of these cases remaining unresolved. 

California must do something about these backward human rights policies. If California can put pressure on other states, it can put similar pressure on these foreign countries. Yet, there have been no bills or resolutions for the past five years calling for foreign countries doing business in California to improve their human rights policies. If California wants to continue to lead on women’s rights and the rights of the LGBTQ community, we need to stop supporting nations with some of the most regressive equality policies and look to obtain oil from elsewhere.