A report from Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), a leading international charity which works to support giving by thousands of businesses worldwide, explains why ,in a new rapidly globalising world economy characterized as it is by weak global governance and fierce national competition to attract business, companies should use their influence to protect whistleblowers and safeguard human.
CAF took four studies to examine how some companies are going above and beyond their traditional role to support civil society independence. Doing this, the report provides a sharp contrast with public perceptions of companies as caring little for working conditions and human rights.
People don’t expect that many human rights abuses in supply chains have spurred a number of companies into action. Some examples include: US textile firms urged the Peruvian government to repeal laws that allowed labour rights violations, despite this action making it harder for the companies to implement their own sourcing codes of conduct. Coca-Cola has developed a zero tolerance policy towards any land that has been grabbed from poor farmers in India and Guatemala, incentivising ethical land policies.
Other case studies are featured in the report. In Angola, three international diamond companies, Tiffany & Co, Leber Jeweler and Brilliant Earth, signed an open letter supporting activist Rafael Marques, who had been arbitrarily detained by the Angolan government after publishing a series of critical exposés on abuses in the alluvial diamond industry. In Pakistan, five companies, Websense, Cisco, Verizon, Sandvine and McAfee, decided to ignore a tender by the Pakistani government to construct a country-wide URL blocking and filtering system for security forces.
Yet in Thailand, where the Thai Tuna Industry Association and Thai Frozen Food Association provided funds as bail for Andy Hall, a journalist who was arrested on lese majeste charges while investigating abuses of migrant workers in Thailand. And Cambodia; here Major international clothes retailers intervened on behalf of Cambodian garment workers to stop violent repression of protests demanding a higher minimum wage.
The conclusion is that despite a long-standing consensus on corporate ethics holding that companies should not seek to interfere or have influence in society outside of their business interests, "influential corporations, especially, in rapidly growing economies, not only find themselves with the power to hold host governments to account, they are also beginning to acknowledge that not using this influence can amount to a tacit support of regressive policy agendas,” the report says.
"The research also shows they can be a huge force for good when they recognize that a vibrant and strong society actually contributes towards business sustainability in the countries where they operate”, said Adam Pickering, International Policy Manager at the CAF. Such actions are also taken to meet investor expectations that demand consideration for social and environmental welfare along with financial returns.
But civil society space is protected only when companies respect and support human rights and human rights defenders. To fulfil this responsibility firms can employ a series of strategies. For example, through their substantial business presence in some countries, important private sector actors can create a large potential for leveraging their positions to affect government decisions related to human rights and civil society. The diamond sector in Angola and the garment retailers active in Cambodia both represent major sources of income for their host governments and are large employers of their countries’ labour forces. In this and other cases the researchers have observed firms in such industries successfully exercising this influence to protect the civil society space.