When global business challenges government assumptions about their interests and partner with civil society, they can have a profound and positive impact on the world.
As ideas about universal rights and values spread across the globe, citizens increasingly recognise that charities have the legitimacy to act as agents of positive change in society. Likewise, companies recognise that a vibrant civil society is an indicator of a positive business environment.
Governments are increasingly vying with one another to attract business and investment. It is no coincidence that the average global corporation tax rate, according to KPMG, has fallen from 27.5% in 2007 to 23.7% in 2015. But not all of the assumptions made by governments about what policies are attractive to companies are sound.
Whether subduing media and civil society criticism, reducing environmental regulation and land laws, relaxing labour laws or breaking unionism, governments are sometimes guilty of instituting heavy handed policies in the name of economic growth. Ironically, recognising that such policies are not necessarily consistent with sustainable growth, many companies are partnering with charities to bring pressure to bear on governments and redress this imbalance.
According to the International Centre for Not-for-profit Law, the last few years has seen more than 50 proposed and enacted laws that could limit the activities of charities by blocking their access to foreign donations, undermining public trust and even preventing them from campaigning.. Many of these laws are being proposed to protect the interests of companies. They will be unwelcome to global corporations that see a vibrant civil society as part of a healthy governance landscape where corruption is challenged and human rights are defended.
Take the recent case of Tiffany & Co, Brilliant Earth and Leber Jeweler Inc. who, along side human rights charities, recently called on the Angolan government to drop the prosecution of a journalist who uncovered human rights abuses in Angola’s diamond fields. Their co-signed letter stated that “vital investigations into human rights abuses should not be impeded by the threat of jail” and called for “standards of international law” to be applied. Where in the past companies might have engaged in wholly profit-motivated lobbying with one hand, whilst giving back to society through their CSR department with the other, many – as Mauricio Lazala, Deputy Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre points out – now take a more long term approach Recognising their stake in ensuring the conditions for sustainable growth, businesses leaders have requested and secured a key role in delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will be agreed in September 2015.
Partnership is becoming ever more critical. The introduction of the SDGs signify a move to a partnership approach in which corporate foundations and CSR leaders may well feel that working in partnership with charities offers legitimacy and the chance to be part of something far bigger than they could ever have the capacity to deliver alone. These partnerships have the potential to create a strong compact between business and civil society, which can hold governments to account, provide vital funding and support the introduction of global standards and innovation into local contexts.
Companies are increasingly aware that an enabling environment for business and for civil society are one and the same. That is why the best of the current generation of business leaders are looking to invest in their communities in new and holistic ways, through partnership with governments and charities, by advocating for social justice outside of their narrow business interests and by seeking to generate income in ways that contribute to sustainable development.