The National President of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, Laura Glading, has written to Nicole Kidman on behalf of the 25,000 American Airlines members that it represents, asking her to withdraw her support from Etihad Airways amid claims that the Abu Dhabi based carrier discriminates against female employees, and the city for which it is based violates basic human rights.
See also: "Nicole Kidman in Etihad’s New Reimagined TV Campaign".
The open letter to Kidman speaks of her ambassadorship to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (or UN Women ), and questions her involvement with "... an airline well-known in the industry for their discriminatory labor practices and deplorable treatment of female employees".
While the letter and statement has factual merit, and it has attracted the support of thousands of their members, a large faction that opposes the message is arguing that the letter is just a means for Glading to promote herself on an uninvited global stage to promote herself for post APFA (Washington) life.
Many are suggesting that the group (supporting Kidman's involvement with Etihad) are using the Laura Glading letter to draw attention to their dispute over a forced EBA arrangement. The group argues that Glading is politically connected to US Airways, and negotiated terms of the EBA with the carrier pre-merger into American.
Where this all ties together, Ms. Kidman, is the fact that flight attendants at American recently rejected a post-bankruptcy contract after it was discovered that the agreement was negotiated at a secret dinner meeting hosted by Laura Glading's cousin, Tom Weir, who just so happened to be a senior executive with U.S. Airways and now American Airlines Group. Yes, rather than negotiating with Tom Horton, the CEO of American Airlines, Ms. Glading was secretly negotiating with Doug Parker, the CEO of U.S. Airways (a non-employer), knowing full-well that the CEOs of both airlines were in the midst of merger talks already. When flight attendants failed to ratify their latest contract by 16 votes, Ms. Glading allowed Mr. Parker to force the agreement on the flight attendants anyway. This has left flight attendants with just two options: suck it up and live with it, or find a lawyer who will challenge it in court. Flight attendants did ask the Department of Justice , the National Mediation Board and the National Labor Relations Board to look into it, but all three were uninterested.
The anti-Glading group is essentially fighting against a forced enterprise bargaining agreement that they perceive was negotiated without best intent, and had undue corporate influence.
The pro-Kidman movement established the WeSupportNicoleKidman website suggests that the agreement, and Glading's letters is part of a braoder consipiracy to limit Gulf Airlines' into the USA. The website reads, in part, as follows:
Please know Ms. Kidman that this media mishap has little to do with you as a spokesperson and everything to do with the fact that American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines (the "Big Three") are asking the United States government to amend the "Open Skies" agreement in an effort to limit Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Emirates (the "Gulf airlines") access to the U.S. Market. As you may have read, the Big Three allege that the Gulf airlines have an unfair advantage because of government subsidies. This rift is now exacerbated by the Gulf airlines' allegations that the Big Three (1) use bankruptcy as a means of dumping employee obligations on taxpayers, (2) accept government bailouts to shore up the bottom line, (3) accept state fuel tax exemptions, and (4) accept interest-free loans to further expand. The question the media is asking now is how the Gulf airlines' subsidies are different than those of the Big Three. It's like the pot calling the kettle charcoal-gray.
If the comments on that website sell any message, it's that their dissatisfaction has more to do with Glading and little to do with Nicole's involvement with Etihad.
For any airline to criticise the employment practices of another - particularly a competitor - they open themselves up to their own warped employment practices, and airlines generally represent the cesspit of corporate culture... and American are certainly far from a model employer. This massive hypocrisy seems to echo through the messages of those that are brave enough to make a public remark.
Is Kidman's Association Unethical?
As an ambassador to UN Women , Kidman seeks to represent the organisation's brand message. UN Women seek to, "among other things"...
... work for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls; empowerment of women; and achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.
That statement does seem to be at odds with the Abu Dhabi lifestyle.
Abu Dhabi, while generally tolerant of other religious practices, is effectively a Caliphate State in parts with separate Sharia (Islamic) courts. While the Government courts rarely employ it, floggings are not uncommon for adultery , consensual premarital sex , prostitution , and pregnancy outside marriage. Up to 150 floggings with a 5-year imprisonment have been known for cases of adultery , drunken behaviour , and deformation of character. Stoning for the same crimes has been known to take place, and amputation has been ordered for cases of theft. While rare, offenders are also known to be crucified .
Disturbingly, rape victims are often incarcerated . This act violates every western instinct and tends to supress reports to police because victims are justifiably concerned that they'll end up serving a prison term. What would be considered statutory rape in other country, in the case of one 14-year-old, ended up as 60 lashes .
Arrest without warrant is against local law but there are thousands of cases each year of persons going missing without explanation (indefinite detention is permitted with judicial review). The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006 suggests that Government ordered killing are the norm throughout the region ... sometimes for something as trivial and menial as an offensive tweet. Those that are held captive are done so in abhorrent conditions, with men generally treated better than women. Because police can detail a person until their investigations are complete, persons can sometimes be detained for days or even weeks before they're permitted to contact an attorney. The legal system is flawed and has a zero tolerance approach to those that aren't native to the region.
While the child bride epidemic in Abu Dhabi no longer applies (by their standards), it's estimate that one in five girls to be married in Abu Dhabi is under the age of 15 - despite the Government touting figures suggesting the average age of marriage is in the region is mid-20's. The region does seem to be acknowledging the importance of an education, although Government sanctioned data from the region needs to be closely scrutinised .
A number of documentaries has been made relating to Abu Dhabi's shameful child camel jockeys and associated child sexual assault. If you have time, search YouTube for Abu Dhabi slavery for information on the foreign slavery that has built the modern city. There's also evidence suggesting the region is a central hub for global trading of sex slaves.
Boarding an Abu Dhabi taxi while intoxicated with likely earn you a one-way trip to a police station; kissing in public will see you jailed or lashed); holding hands will have police asking you for evidence of marriage (if not deported); and known homosexuality could see you imprisoned of up to 14 years (with a potential stoning or castration thrown in for good measure)... while Sharia law permits the death penalty for homosexuals. Since the majority of male cabin crew are gays (yeah, it's a generalisation, but a good one), it's little wonder any airline likes to keep their employees in sanctioned and secure communities (one of the areas that has been criticised by media). In a region that prosecutes people for a gay handshake , airline-style proclivities aren't something that's celebrated.
The airline has had to adopt westernised employment practices (and operations) to attract and keep the foreign workforce that it relies upon. That said, virtually every airline adopts unethical business practices as a matter of course; so the lack of fair work oversight coupled with an Islamic dominated culture makes for a troubling working environment. It's fair to suggest that women are considered a second class employee by virtue of a culture that considers the same.
When we read various media reports detailing Etihad's requirement for females to wear skirts (rather than pants) as part of their uniform policy - something that was well know well before it was reported - you can understand why we didn't care. A no-pants policy is the least significant human rights violation in the region.
While Nicole Kidman can licence her brand to whatever product she wants, it is somewhat odd and troubling - given her ambassadorship - that she's chosen to associate herself with a largely Government-owned airline that is intrinsically linked to so many violations of human and female rights.
If you work for Etihad, we'd like to hear from you.