Around the world, citizens are increasingly silenced, social movements are stifled and media and civil society are being attacked. This loss of essential civic rights, freedoms and space is becoming alarmingly common, with the current climate deemed a Civic Space Emergency. Threats to those defending these rights are also on the rise with 1,283 recorded attacks on human rights defenders working on cases linked to business, ranging from false judicial prosecutions, to physical and psychological harassment to even killings since 2015.
For business, these trends translate to threats to employees, unpredictable costs, unreliable markets, increased corruption and weakened legislative systems. More and more business leaders are recognizing this and speaking out to help secure a future of freedom. And while there are strong normative arguments that compel business to take a stand for civic rights and human rights defenders, is it in the interest of companies to step in, speak up or act?
Today, The B Team has released The Business Case for Protecting Civic Rights, to examine the economic impact of respect for civic rights and civic space. The Business Case for Protecting Civic Rights utilizes data from the Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem) to augment the business case for action and explore how a better business environment is linked to greater civic rights and freedoms.
The results of this research are clear: limits on important civic freedoms are linked to negative economic outcomes.
Countries with higher degrees of respect for civic rights experience higher economic growth rates as well as higher levels of human development. The research shows that these economic growth rates are especially linked to the state of civic rights in the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia. Based on this evidence, The Business Case for Protecting Civic Rights suggests that it is time the private sector took action. Companies can develop, implement and monitor corporate policies that factor in civic freedoms as a core company value, speak out when civic rights are under threat, incorporate civic rights in impact and risk assessment across supply chains and join networks to support collective action across sectors.
“Given the increasing vulnerability of human rights defenders and shrinking space where they can operate safely, business has a role and a responsibility to defend and promote fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Unilever CEO and B Team Chair Paul Polman.
Importantly, findings from The Business Case for Protecting Civic Rights also indicate that business and civil society need to engage in collective and courageous action to advance civic rights. Neither sector can face this loss of essential freedoms and public trust alone. Only by working collaboratively, and with government, can they build a world where both people and business are free to succeed.
Learn more about this research and download the full dataset here. If you would like to find out more about this research or The B Team’s work on the Business Network on Civic Rights and Human Rights Defenders, please contact Annabel Lee Hogg, Cause Strategist, Governance and Human Rights, via firstname.lastname@example.org.