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Why/how should corporates defend civil society space? Good new paper + case studies

Duncan Green's picture

I saw some effective academic-NGO cooperation last week, and even better, it involved some of my LSE students.

The occasion was the launch of Beyond Integrity: Exploring the role of business in preserving civil society space, commissioned and published by the Charities Aid Foundation and written by Silky Agrawal, Brooks Reed and Riya Saxena, three of last year’s LSE Masters students. They researched and wrote the report as part of a student consultancy project, and CAF were so impressed that they decided to publish it. Result.

First the content: the authors went looking for cases where businesses had got involved in defending civil society from attacks by government, and identified four really interesting cases (see table). They interviewed a number of the players in each case.

They found some ‘key learnings’ (bit depressing to see them already adopting the barbarisms of aidspeak!):

  • Firms in consumer-facing industries are responsive to large-scale social movements that raise awareness regarding human rights abuses;
  • Privately owned companies with strong ethics and values tied into the core business model, led by engaged leaders, are likely to respond to civil society;
  • At times, privately held dialogues between key stakeholders and host governments can be more effective at initiating positive action than a public challenge, as the respect and dignity of each stakeholder is maintained;
  • Leveraging formal and informal cross-sectoral networks is instrumental in convincing corporations to act on behalf of civil society.

Civic Space Initiative: Civil Society Under Threat

Roxanne Bauer's picture
Most states around the world, including most authoritarian regimes, tolerate Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) involved in noncontroversial, de-politicized humanitarian work because they provide social services that the state does not or because battling them would incur greater political expense than allowing them to work at the margins.  However, it is also clear that organizations with a political mandate or those that raise difficult policy issues face intense pressure in many countries.  In these states, authorities seek legal frameworks which could prevent CSOs from experssing their opinions, questioning official policies, or mobilising on the streets.

Internationally, CSO's are also speaking out against marginalization and unfair legal pratices. In the lead-up to the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly this week, CSOs are arguing that even though many organizations and activitsts are regularly invited to voice their concerns, they nonetheless stand little chance of influencing the real agenda because the inter-governmental system is almost entirely state-driven.

In this video, Ryota Jonen of the Civic Space Initiative, outlines six broad categories of legal constraints that CSOs face worldwide:
 
Civil Society Under Threat