In times of democratic crisis, the growing influence of business over commercial, political and social spheres can play a key role in safeguarding civic freedoms says global civil society alliance, CIVICUS’ 2017 report.

The 2017 State of Civil Society Report highlights a global emergency on civic space as democracy is being undermined by right-wing populist and neo-fascist leaders even as the power of businesses continues to grow. Business, particularly transnational corporations, have a greater impact on all spheres of life than ever before – most of the world’s 100 biggest economic entities by revenue are companies, not governments.

It is also a time when just 3% of the world’s population live in countries with “open” civic space, meaning that the exercise of their freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly is not being unduly restricted.

The CIVICUS State of Civil Society 2017 report further notes:

  • There is a strong business case for protection of civic space, as social risk can add 10% on average to business operating costs, bribery which civil society helps prevent is estimated to account for around US$1 trillion a year
  • Ongoing concerns over harmful business practices resulting in attacks on rights defenders, land grabs, displacement and environmental harm; and
  • Acknowledgement of the role of businesses in Agenda 2030 should not be seen an avenue for profit making by a few transnational corporations but rather as an opportunity for businesses to contribute to the well-being of communities.

The report also points out that forces of globalisation and neo-liberal economic orthodoxy are fuelling inequality, and sparking citizen anger. For civil society, it is a matter of urgency to pay attention to the private sector and find new ways of engaging with it.

“Too often business as usual can result in human rights abuses, leading to land grabs affecting indigenous people, the killing of human rights defenders, low wages and attacks on workers rights. Massive global tax avoidance continues to lead to cuts in public spending and is driving global inequality,” says CIVICUS Secretary General Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah. CIVICUS supports the move towards an international legally binding treaty on transnational corporations and human rights in the report.

The report also highlights that the private sector is playing a major role in delivering Agenda 2030, with businesses increasingly drawing development resources. Due to increased focus on public-private partnerships, civil society organisations (CSOs) are having to compete with profit focused private sector contractors to deliver public services in a development market structured more around questionable efficiency concerns than values. The risk is that sustainable development becomes less about realising rights than receiving corporate charity.

BUSINESS CASE FOR CIVIC SPACE

The report identifies several areas of partnership for positive social change between business and civil society. It highlights the need for business to adopt a ‘first do no harm’ approach and then go beyond that by demonstrating an active commitment to protecting civic freedoms.

Nicolas Patrick of global law firm, DLA Piper which is part of a business network on human rights defenders insists that businesses can only succeed where there is strong rule of law. His company sees civil society as an indicator and facilitator of the rule of law. It supports civil society organisations by providing them with strategic advice in obtaining registration in high risk jurisdictions and support in instances of arbitrary detention.

Bill Anderson of the Adidas Group points to his company’s long track record working with several civil society groups to guarantee worker’s rights and better occupational health and safety conditions as part of global supply chains. He believes that open and tolerant societies, where civil society thrives, are also pre-conditions for the long-term success of business.

These initiatives show how, at its best, the private sector can help tackle the biggest issues we face from climate change to economic inequality, and the current crisis of democracy.

UN Global Compact research suggests that poor governance and corruption – which an empowered civil society offers a bulwark against – add on average 10 per cent to the cost of conducting business. The difference between operating in a low corruption climate versus one with higher levels of corruption can be 20 percent of profit. Research puts the economic cost of internet shutdowns, as experienced in Anglophone region of Cameroon this year, at US$2.4billion. This puts a clear price on the failure to defend online civic space.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

For the full State of Civil Society Report 2017 click here.

About the State of Civil Society Report 2017

Each year the CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report examines the major events that involve and affect civil society around the world. Part one of our report reviews the past year, focusing on the space for civil society and the impact of a resurgence of right-wing populist politics; the right to express dissent; protest movements; and civil society’s international-level actions. Part two of our report has the special theme of civil society and the private sector.

Our report is of, from and for civil society, drawing from a wide range of interviews with people close to the major stories of the day, a survey of members of our network of national and regional civil society coordination and membership bodies - the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) - and 27 specially-commissioned guest articles on different aspects of the theme of civil society and the private sector. Most of our inputs come from civil society, but we also sought the views of people working in government and the private sector.

Our report also draws from CIVICUS’ ongoing programme of research and analysis into the conditions for civil society. In particular, it presents findings from the CIVICUS Monitor, our new online platform that tracks the space for civil society - civic space - in every country, and the Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA), a civil society-led analysis of legal, regulatory and policy environments.

For further information or to request interviews with CIVICUS staff and contributors please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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