Though freedoms of speech may seem common to a western audience, many across the world still lack the ability to engage in a public space. Even today, many governments are cracking down on citizens’ freedom to criticize them or hold them accountable. This is coupled with a rise in dissatisfaction when it comes to public services and the transparency of government. This has led to some alarming statistics concerning the repression of civic engagement.
Mo Ibrahim of the B Team has written about this issue, particularly as it relates to African governments. These issues should serve as a cautionary tale, even in western countries that believe that they have the freedom to make an impact politically. Everywhere, issues such as voter suppression are highly concerning and should not be ignored.
Businesses can and should support a strong civic discourse in their countries. Though it may seem like an unrelated issue, reform benefits all citizens as well as businesses, allowing for innovation and growth on all fronts. And often, these companies have the resources to provide solutions where government may not be able to.
It’s something of a domino effect. If citizens are denied the right to assemble and protest, corruption can run rampant and the restriction of essential public services can continue without many knowing about it. Across sectors, businesses have begun discussing the work that they can do to prevent the restriction of civic engagement. These plans strive to create no burdens for citizens while increasing the scope of civic space and accounting for the challenges and opportunities created by technology.
For instance, governments across the world have shut down or restricted internet access during protests. This is a blatant and appalling way of covering up violations of human rights. What’s more, it costs businesses money, as it cuts off e-commerce and other operations for that period. This is just one example of the reasons why businesses should be invested in opportunities to fight against violations of civic engagement rights.
And perhaps the most resounding way that businesses can help is through open exchange of data. There’s a lot of progress that can be made for very little opportunity cost. Businesses exposing corruption can lead to concrete policy changes in countries that may have attempted to obscure information. Beyond this, companies have more clout to engage with governments and establish close relationships on behalf of citizens. And when government fails to provide adequate infrastructure and services, companies are able to step in and provide inexpensive options for things like healthcare and transportation.
There’s a lot that still needs to be done. Even as businesses and citizens advocate for more open governmental practices, others attempt to shackle free speech and retaliate against those that defend civic rights for citizens. However, a change needs to come, and businesses are the best poised to act—not just for their benefit, but for the betterment of countries and cultures worldwide.