From the mid-1990s, global mainstream human rights organisations slowly and gingerly began to take up the economic and social rights agenda. Some, such as the International Commission of Jurists, have always supported them at an abstract level, but devote relatively little attention to them. Others, such as Human Rights Watch, gradually incorporated more work on economic and social rights into their daily practices, but maintain a very narrow view on what is appropriate economic and social rights advocacy for an organisation such as theirs (see Box 3.4). Amnesty International finally and famously incorporated economic, social and cultural rights into its mandate in 2001. The organisation still considers itself to be in a learning phase in relation to economic and social rights, and is only gradually expanding its focus from ‘respect’ violations directly connected to earlier campaigns on civil and political rights, such as for instance the denial of access to work, health and education that has resulted from the building of the wall in the Palestinian Occupied Territories (Amnesty International 2005).
How? On the screen. Television, Ignatieff wrote, ‘is the instrument of a new kind of politics’, one in which NGOs seek to circumvent bilateral governmental relations and institute direct political contacts between far-flung people. This notion, exemplified in the paradigms of ‘mobilizing shame’ and ‘global witness,’ today dominates the ‘third sector,’ from relief agencies to human rights organisations and community movements. For us, that new politics has been generalised and radicalised. Global civil society is unthinkable without media, without a virtual public space and access to its means of production and distribution. Indeed, under the banners of opening-democratic-spaces and overcoming-the-digital-divide, creating and defending those media zones has become one of the chief preoccupations of the new political movements of our time. The current concern with information and communications technology for development is just one indicator of this phenomenon. But civil society – and the new people politics – is not what it used to be.
In many ways, it is these better-resourced groups that are able to contribute to each stage of the international policy process described below. Some, such as WWF, have a more global reach by virtue of having country offices across the world. This puts them in a better position to push for domestic ratification, since they can pool resources and channel them through country offices in the ratification process. Though generally considered under-resourced, total finances available to NGOs participating in these processes easily exceed the amount available, for example, to the United Nations Environment Programme. For example, WWF has around 5 million members worldwide with a combined income of around SwFr470 million ($US391 million); Greenpeace International has more than 2.5 million members in 158 countries with an annual budget in the region of $US30 million, and Friends of the Earth has over a million members in 58 countries (Yamin 2001: 151). Resources on this scale are not available to many other groups, of course, and of themselves explain to only a limited degree the types of influence that groups have been able to exert.
Some of the most significant actors in global civil society have been active on the climate change issue, particularly from the 1980s onwards, coinciding with growing interest in global threats such as ozone depletion and climate change and rising appreciation of the global sources and impacts of threats facing the human race. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have been among the most active groups on this issue. By the time of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in the Hague November 2000, however, participants from 323 intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations were present (Yamin 2001). In order to bring about a measure of coordination of their activities, pooling of resources and expertise, civil society groups have organised themselves into coalitions such as the Climate Action Network (CAN).
There are also a large number of civil society actors around the world with issue-oriented agendas, especially in relation to environment and human rights. These actors make use of the United Nations to the extent relevant to their substantive preoccupations. EarthAction, World Wide Fund for Nature, and Greenpeace are environmental NGOs that push their causes at the UN whenever it seems useful. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International do the same with respect to human rights. One of the oldest and most widely respected organisations, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), has been active especially at the Geneva end of UN operations, but also in UN conferences around the world, particularly if the subject matter bears on feminist concerns or disarmament. WILPF has a civil society presence and possesses a strong internationalist identity that long antedates the establishment of the United Nations. The role and activism of WILPF prefigures in many respects the emergent reality of global civil society.
As others have pointed out, foundations have no ‘demos’ or membership equivalent, and no broad-based election of leaders takes place that would aggregate preferences and hold those elected accountable. Unlike firms in the marketplace, membership-based non-profit organisations or government agencies, foundations have no equivalent set of stakeholders that would introduce a system of checks and balances. Grantees have little influence, and no explicit vehicles for redress and grievance. Expressing primarily the will of the donor or deed, the organisational structure of a foundation does not typically allow for broad-based participation and decision making outside the limited circle of trustees.
Members of International Advocacy NGOs, a group made up of 11 large NGOs including Save the Children, Oxfam, and Amnesty International, adopted the INGO Accountability Charter in summer 2006 (International Non-Governmental Organisations Commitment to Accountability 2006), which includes many aspects of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act (see Box 7.1). Similarly, in May 2007, the European Foundation Centre and the US Council on Foundations issued the Principles of Accountability for International Philanthropy (European Foundation Centre and the US Council on Foundations 2007) to guide funders in making better decisions in pursuing their international missions and objectives and to provide a framework that will encourage and assist more foundations to get involved internationally (see Box 7.2). While the INGO Charter and the Principles of Accountability for International Philanthropy can be seen as steps forward, they also highlight some of the biggest challenges in defining and enforcing accountability in a globalising world, for instance, those centred around the multiplicity of stakeholders and the difficulty of enforcement and liability, which will be discussed later in this Chapter.
Genetically engineered civil society
Katherine Verdery (1996) contends that since the demise of communism, Western capitalist societies have come to believe that they have a monopoly on truth and can therefore dispense wisdom about how to build the ‘proper’ forms of democracy and capitalism. This, the critics charge, led to the promotion of a single (i.e.Western) model of civil society that ignores other traditions and understandings (Parekh 2004: 22). According to Thomas Carothers, ‘Democracy promoters pass through these countries [in Africa, Asia and the Middle East] on hurried civil society assessment missions and declare that “very little civil society exists” because they have found only a handful of Westernised NGOs devoted to non-partisan public-interest advocacy work on the national side’ (Carothers 1999: 248). Since donor-defined civil society (that is, professional NGOs) did not exist in many places or was believed to have been tainted, donors engaged in a process of building society from scratch (Mandel 2002: 282).
Second, although the numbers of NGOs have dramatically increased in developing and transition countries, the reality is that the vast majority of these NGOs are almost entirely dependent on foreign support. This dependence not only raises concerns about their long-term sustainability and impact but also raises questions about their legitimacy, probity and accountability. In other words, are these NGOs considered legitimate actors locally? These considerations are often ignored and the growth in the number of NGOs is frequently cited by donors as a sign of success. This is due to the fact that it is easier to count the number of organisations and to cite increased numbers as evidence of the impact and success of donor programmes. For instance, the ‘Lessons in Implementation: The NGO Story’ report published by USAID in 1999 examines the lessons learned in ‘building civil society in Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States’. The report acknowledges that the immense amount of aid led to an ‘explosive growth of local NGOs’ (USAID 1999: 3), citing growth as one of the eight success indicators. The need for demonstrating success is driven by the pressures on all actors engaged in democracy promotion, whether donors or recipients, to demonstrate effectiveness and to give account to their own funders. However, since it is difficult to measure the impact of democracy-building efforts on people’s behaviour and attitudes, often what is considered and presented as signs of success are the formal or procedural democratic mechanisms and institutions.
Non-state actors and democracy promotion
In addition to bilateral and multilateral agencies, non-state actors, including private foundations, Northern NGOs, private service contractors, political parties and others have been involved in democracy promotion. There are differences among these various actors in terms of their objectives and missions, as well as levels of financial independence and autonomy. Some organisations, such as the Open Society Institute (also known as the Soros Foundation) and the Ford Foundation, are funded by private endowments and consider democracy promotion as an integral part of their mission. They have been actively engaged in democracy promotion and civil society strengthening. Meanwhile NGOs or quasi-NGOs such as the US-based NED and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, or the UK-based Westminster Foundation for Democracy (URL), which are also committed to promoting democracy around the world, have less financial independence than the aforementioned private foundations and are dependent on government funding. For instance, NED receives an annual appropriation from the US Congress through the Department of State (NED URL), while the Westminster Foundation is an independent body that receives £4.1 million annual funding from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (URL). In addition to these various types of foundations, there are also political parties or organisations affiliated to political parties that engage in democracy promotion. In Germany, for instance, there are a number of organisations, including the Friedrich Ebert, Friedrich Naumann, Heinrich Böll and Konrad Adenauer foundations that are associated with various political parties and that have been active in democracy promotion. Finally, among non-state actors, there are the private service contractors or consulting companies (such as Planning and Development Collabrative International and Development Alternatives, Inc. URL), which procure contracts and carry out democracy promotion, civil society strengthening and governance on behalf of and based on the specifications of their clients. USAID, in particular, provides a significant amount of contracts to such consulting companies and private service contractors. In 2004 alone it provided US $8 billion to contractors engaged in carrying out international development projects throughout the world (USAID 2006).
Since the early 1990s, programmes strengthening civil society, in particular American, have excluded political associations and parties (i.e. political society) in an attempt to appear non-partisan and to avoid accusations of ‘playing politics’ (Ottaway and Carothers 2000: 12). Instead, although donors have recently sought to expand the definition of civil society to include more actors than just NGOs, in practice civil society was often equated with the development and growth of NGOs and as a result, the infusion of donor funding and focus on civil society strengthening throughout the 1990s led to an unprecedented and exponential growth in the numbers of NGOs worldwide. Many have referred to this as the ‘NGOisation’ of civil society.
At a moment when democracy at a national level appears to be ‘hollowing out’, the informal political sphere is increasingly active through NGOs. This includes those operating at local levels and those with global brand names like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch or Greenpeace, as well as a new wave of global social movements like the Social Forums, the anti-war movement or Islamist and other national or religious movements. Moreover new types of informal policy making are being pioneered on big global issues like social justice, climate change or war. These are being tackled through consumer practices (fair trade or carbon miles) or through volunteering (delivering humanitarian aid, acting as civilian monitors).
The discursive model proposes that the public is highly differentiated in terms of the roles various members play in the processes of public debate and decision. A small minority plays a distinct leadership role, aggressively pursuing its favoured actions, while at the other end of the participatory continuum are much larger mass audiences that do little more than receive information about the issue and retain some of it. Price and Neijens (1997) distinguish six different types of actors in public debate, arrayed roughly from the smallest and most active groups to the largest and least active aggregates. Political leaders, policy experts and interest groups comprise the ‘elites’, both within and outside the sphere of formal government who play active roles throughout all the phases of decision making (we place NGOs and public advocacy groups in the last of these categories). Members of the press serve as critical conduits for information and opinion exchange between these elites, as well as to their followers in attentive publics, made up of people following the issue, discussing it and forming opinions and, finally, to more expansive but minimally engaged mass audiences.
Moreover that discursive model has its impact in turn on the practices of NGOs, sensing the demands of a global public opinion and responding to the urgings of activists. In Chapter 7 Helmut Anheier’s and Amber Hawkes’ review of the shifting locus of accountability shows the backlash against the gross excesses of capitalist organisations like Enron has gathered pace and extended to NGOs, and joined up with a broader sense of social accountability that informs debate about new kinds of democracy for a globalised world. The self-critique of capitalist organisations looks increasingly like the demand for participatory democracy and checks and balances that advocates of communicative power to the people have long demanded. We might say ‘suspiciously like’ of course, because this rapprochement between the agents and critics of the global corporation looks very like a replay of the earlier compact between governments and NGOs. The rise of private equity that bypasses the constraints on public corporations suggests new power strategies by the owners of capital. We may now be moving to a new stage of the continuing struggle to sustain democracy: a kind of democracy-lite in the form of accountability being forced upon and embraced by the corporate sector.