The 2017 State of Civil Society report by CIVICUS, an international alliance of organizations dedicated to supporting civil society, suggests that a growing influence of global business is causing increased human rights abuses and attacks on fundamental freedoms.
According to the report, civil society is facing serious threats in 106 countries. Only 26 states out of 195, just 3 per cent of the world population, are assessed as having fully open civic spaces.
While the growth of business does not have to be intrinsically harmful, CIVICUS says, globalisation has led to greater inequality between and within countries. Neoliberal globalisation, as explained by the Centre for Research on Globalization, could be defined as ‘instead of a democratic ‘complete competition’ between many small enterprises enjoying the freedom of the market, only the big corporations win.’
The report suggests that the current emergencies of civil society are a result of businesses focusing more on profits instead of fulfilling their social responsibilities.
The private sector’s influence over government is increasing and the new role in government is one of privilege, according to the report. This provides the sector with access that others, including civil society, are excluded from. The CIVICUS report states that the issue of civil society and the private sector is becoming increasingly relevant as business grows transnationally. The report argues that ‘many businesses are creating serious human rights impacts, whether directly, by causing environmental damage, displacing citizens or denying labour rights, or indirectly … by fuelling corruption or avoiding paying taxes.’
The report also states that some businesses are ‘directly targeting civil society activists’ who challenge business practices and hold them accountable. Between June 2016 and March 2017, CIVICUS reports 160 detained activists, 113 disruptions of protests, 122 uses of excessive force against protests and 101 attacks on journalists. The report notes that most detentions of civil space activists come when activists are perceived to challenge state institutions, polices and officials, and when they draw attention to human right abuses.
Despite the potential negative impact, CIVICUS points out that the business sector could be a useful ally to civil society. To do so, businesses need to more actively support civil society and sustainable development and create cross-sector partnerships with civil society and philanthropic organizations to address the issues affecting them.
The new report comes less than four months after the 2017 WINGSForum in Mexico City in February 2017, which featured debates on whether business and civil society were friends or foes.
See the full report here.