Week of Jan. 11 to Jan. 17, 2007
Norwegian government, labor unions angered by Hilton's snub at Cubans
By Progreso Weekly staff
The rejection of a Cuban business group by a Norwegian hotel owned by the Hilton chain is creating a furor in Norwegian government and labor circles.
The Norwegian Anti-Racism Center reported the Scandic Hotel chain to the police, after the Scandic Edderkoppen Hotel in Oslo denied a delegation from the Cuban Tourism Ministry rooms at the hotel. The organization filed a complaint against the hotel, the managing director of Hilton Hotels and the Scandic chain. The charge is based on a law prohibiting the denial of services on the grounds of a person's citizenship or other ethnic reasons.
The Scandic chain was acquired by the U.S.-based Hilton Group in March 2006. Because of the U.S. blockade of Cuba, the hotel turned the Cuban delegation away.
A civil rights issue
“We have filed a complaint based on the law which says that no one can be turned away because of their citizenship or ethnicity,” Henrik Lunde of the Anti-Racism Center, told The Norway Post. “In our opinion, foreign companies establishing themselves in Norway must follow Norwegian laws.”
The 14-member Cuban delegation will participate in the annual Tourism Fair at Lillestroem, 25 miles from Oslo, Jan. 11-14. Cuban delegations have stayed at the Edderkoppen Hotel for the last five years. Just before Christmas, the Cubans were told that they would have to find a new hotel this year.
Geir Lundkvist, managing director for Hilton and Scandic in Norway, said he regretted the situation.
"They have gotten a new hotel outside of the Scandic chain and I hope that they are satisfied. I don't wish to say anything more about the matter," Lundkvist told the Norwegian daily Aftenposten.
Scandic is the largest hotel chain in Scandinavia, with 140 hotels in nine countries.
"These actions from Scandic managers are totally unacceptable," deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen told the Reuters news agency. "In Norway we are based on Norwegian law and Norwegian practices, not those of any other country," he said.
To the Aftenposten, Johansen said: “We have diplomatic ties with Cuba, and it does not sound like Norwegian political guidelines have applied.” He said the Norwegian government will take up the issue with Washington.
Ann Helen Aaroe, a spokeswoman for the government's Equality and Antidiscrimination Agency (known as LDO) said that “We expect the hotel to account for itself. If this is not satisfactory, the LDO will file a complaint. There is nothing that guarantees any company with American owner interests to exclude the citizens of a country on the grounds that the United States boycotts that nation. We have to examine the rules that apply to business in Norway.”
Labor supports Cubans
Norway's main labor group, the Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisasjonen i Norge), threatened to boycott the Scandic chain if it did not reverse its policy.
The 830,000-member organization, known as LO, “is deeply appalled” at Scandic's action, it said in a press release. “This is a clear breach of Norwegian law, which forbids discrimination because of nationality. We consider it a very serious matter that a Norwegian hotel chain upholds the United States’ boycott of Cuba. [...] It is also contrary to international law , as it demands the application of American law beyond the territory of the United States. [...] If the management of the Hilton and Scandic Hotels does not immediately change its policy, the LO will ask its members not to serve the Scandic Hotel under any condition.”
In addition, “the LO demands that the government take the step of denying business activity to companies like Scandic, which clearly adhere to the United States' illegal boycott and blockade rather than the policy of the Norwegian authorities,” the labor group said.
The 300,000-member Union of Municipal and General Workers has also announced it will boycott the Scandic chain. And the telecommunications workers' union, EL&IT, joined the boycott on Wednesday, Jan. 10.