The Global Closing of Civil Society Space: Strategies for Pushing Back
Two decades ago, the emergence of national and global level civil society was seen as one of the great outcomes of the end of the Cold War combined with the acceleration of globalization and the emergence of an interconnected world. Now that progress is under attack as civil society space continues to close around the world, in both democratic and authoritarian countries alike North and South, West and (former) East. Largely driven by economic and cultural forces, this phenomenon is changing domestic politics and the geopolitical landscape with grave implications for democratic institutions, human rights and the rule of law.
What can be done in democratic and non-democratic countries alike to counter the factors and forces driving this closing of civil society space? How can democracy defend itself—sometimes against itself—and how can human rights defenders be defended? What are the roles and responsibilities of international institutions and non-state actors—from civil society itself to the business community—in this historic fight?
Bennett Freeman will offer an unusual perspective on these challenges, drawing on his current work in this arena and longer-term perspective as a former U.S. human rights diplomat and global standard-setter at the intersection of governments and international institutions, multinational corporations and responsible investors, international NGOs and trade unions.
Over the last 18 years of a 35-year career, Bennett Freeman has worked at the intersection of governments and international institutions; multinational corporations and investors; NGOs and civil society to promote sustainable development and respect for human rights around the world. An innovative leader in the fields of business and human rights, natural resource governance and responsible investment, he has played key roles in developing several multi-stakeholder initiatives and global standards that have strengthened corporate responsibility in industries ranging from extractives to information and communications technology.
Freeman consults for corporations, NGOs and foundations through Bennett Freeman Associates LLC and as a senior advisor to BSR and Critical Resource. He is chair of the advisory board of Global Witness; board secretary of the Global Network Initiative; and a member of the Governing Board of the Natural Resources Governance Institute. He served on the boards of Oxfam America; the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative; and the Institute for Human Rights and Business.
Freeman was senior vice president-Sustainability Research and Policy at Calvert Investments from 2006-15, and as managing director and senior counselor leading Burson-Marsteller’s Global Corporate Responsibility practice from 2003-06. He served as a Clinton presidential appointee at the U.S. Department of State as deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor from 1999-2001; senior advisor to under secretary for economic and business affairs Stuart Eizenstat from 1997-1999; and chief speechwriter for secretary of state Warren Christopher from 1993-97. He was manager-corporate affairs for GE from 1985-1993 and a speechwriter and presidential campaign aide to former Vice President Walter Mondale from 1982-1984.
Freeman earned an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford as a Churchill Scholar at Balliol College and an AB in History from the University of California at Berkeley.