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Posted in: news

16th January 2018

It's Time for Business to Act on Threats to Civic Rights

By Annabel Lee Hogg, Cause Strategist, Governance and Human Rights

Business leaders from around the world are set to gather in Davos at the World Economic Forum’s annual session next week and create dialogue around the theme: “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” A theme truly befitting the tumultuous time we live in.

B Team Leaders including Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, will be speaking in a main plenary to discuss one very pressing problem: the global suppression of civic rights.

In its 2017 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum identified “Fraying Rule of Law and Declining Civic Freedoms: Citizens and Civic Space at Risk” as one of the foremost challenges facing the world. Increased restricted freedoms and government control help undermine economic and social stability. Globally, these threats to civic rights are growing with CIVICUS referring to the current climate as a Global Civic Space Emergency.

Given this alarming state, The B Team has decided to help tackle the issue of the suppression of civic rights. The erosion of freedoms of speech, assembly, association and access to information is a concerning global trend. 3.2 billion people live in countries where civic rights are at risk through legal restriction, repressive acts and direct targeting of human rights defenders, anti-corruption campaigners, journalists and environmental activists.

To reduce corruption, enable fair and open market structures and ensure governments act in the long-term interest of their constituents, we need space that allows citizens to discuss the implications of government actions and speak out when they see injustice. This space has proven essential in enabling open contracting and encouraging responsible tax practices that drive progress toward sustainable development. A society where civic rights are respected serves as a healthy foundation for building inclusive economies and well-functioning democracies.

Business can and should play a positive role in expanding civil society space. By reinforcing the freedoms that underpin human wellbeing, such as justice and equality, business can lead on protecting these invaluable rights. Businesses with a focus on long-term sustainability also have an inherent interest in maintaining open and free societies. Government repression often negatively affects companies, both directly and indirectly, through increasing corruption, weakening legislative systems, creating unreliable markets and interfering in business operations.

Building the business case for protecting civic rights is an essential first step to helping companies understand and unpack how crucial these rights are to their operations and, ultimately, their bottom line. Together with the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, International Service for Human Rights, Edwin Rekosh and DLA Piper, The B Team is conducting a quantitative and qualitative analysis of this issue to be shared at key international fora in 2018.

With this resource, private sector champions can help shift perceptions of civil society groups as anti-patriotic or anti-economic growth. They can also help increase understanding that thriving civil society and business are not mutually exclusive, but inherently intertwined. It’s time to invest in new relationships and pilot new forms of collaboration to tackle this important issue. It’s time to make business a countervailing force against those seeking to silence citizens.

Watch live on January 25 at 15:00 CET to hear Sharan Burrow, Paul Polman and more discuss how business can take a stand to protect civic rights around the world.