How can companies defend civic space?

Panellists discuss how companies can go beyond corporate social responsibility and philanthropy initiatives to protect and support civic freedoms around the world.

Research event
2 February 2021 — 4:00PM TO 5:00PM

There is increasing pressure on companies to use their power and profits to engage with social and political causes. In doing so, companies can help to support the ‘shared civic space’ that enables the private sector and civil society organizations to benefit from a society that respects the rule of law and human rights, at a time when many of these rights are under threat around the world.

Many companies have introduced CSR initiatives, due diligence mechanisms and corporate philanthropy. Over 11,000 companies are now signatories to the UN’s Global Compact for sustainable and socially responsible business worldwide.

But as demonstrated by misguided corporate responses to the Black Lives Matter protests this year, there is a danger of corporate activism being perceived as ‘lip service’ rather than genuinely addressing the negative impacts of business operations on civic space.

Recent Chatham House research indicates that meaningful engagement by businesses on such issues must be timely, contextually sensitive and industry-relevant. For example, in 2015, Tiffany & Co. worked with other companies to intervene on behalf of Rafael Marques after he was arrested for reporting on widespread human rights abuses in the Angolan diamond industry. During COVID-19, Microsoft offered free cybersecurity software to healthcare and human rights organizations at increased risk of hacking attacks.

This panel event will draw upon practical examples of private sector support for civic space across different sectors, geographies and political environments.

Why might companies step up to defend freedom of association, expression or political participation even where this comes at a financial or political cost? How can companies resist complicity with governments or regulation that threaten civic space? And what forums exist, or should exist, for developing tactical alliances between companies and civil society actors?

This event is also the launch of a new Chatham House resource, The Role of the Private Sector in Protecting Civic Space.


Roger Leese, Partner, Clifford Chance

Rebecca MacKinnon, Founding Director, Ranking Digital Rights

Lorenzo Mendoza, CEO, Empresas Polar

Thiago Pinto, Author, The Role of the Private Sector in Protecting Civic Space

Chair: Harriet Moynihan, Senior Research Fellow, International Law Programme, Chatham House

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