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Focus areas / Civic space



The crackdown on democracy is silencing civil society voices in many countries. Shrinking civic space is a growing threat to livelihoods, liberty and peace.

Civic space under attack

The global crackdown om civic space threatens sustainable development, democracy and peace. In the last decade, a growing number of attacks have been driven by state and business interests seeking to exploit land and other natural resources. Women are particularly affected as they are often excluded from formal political processes and primarily engage though civic space.

Many countries have enacted repressive legislation by limiting freedom of expression, a development that worsened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic when restrictions on movement made it easier to target defenders. Those who challenge authorities, may they be community representatives, journalists or human rights and environmental defenders, are at great risk of repression.

A responsibility to defend the defenders

Business actors, particularly those operating in repressive regimes and high-risk sectors, have a responsibility to identify risks faced by rights defenders and to support their right to hold companies to account. Under internationally agreed norms, companies are expected to include defenders as a vulnerable group in their human rights due diligence processes and ensure their perspectives are heard in meaningful consultations.

Swedwatch´s approach
We work actively to counteract limitations to civic space by supporting human rights and environmental defenders. This includes highlighting the situation for defenders, engaging with decision-makers and business actors, and building capacity among defenders, civil society representatives, unions and communities to advocate on issues related to irresponsible business practices.

Coordinator, human rights defenders and civic space
Malena (2)

Malena Wåhlin

+46 (0)73 223 02 82

Snapshots of our work on civic space



Amplifying voices

HRD miniIn national and international forums, Swedwatch works to ensure that the voices of defenders are heard. The report Defenders at Risk, provides an overview of the situation for defenders working on business-related rights violations in high-risk sectors. The report’s interviewees highlight common ways in which companies may increase risks and put defenders in danger.

The report is part of Swedwatch´s ongoing project to ensure that the discussion around binding legislation on human rights due diligence is based on the voices of defenders, many times threatened by a rapidly shrinking civic space. It also provides a platform for our calls on European companies to introduce policies safeguarding the rights of defenders throughout their supply chains.

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Engaging with investors

To curb the trend of restrictions on civic freedoms, financial actors including institutional investors and development finance institutions should use their clout and address the escalating violence and intimidation. In various advocacy initiatives, Swedwatch works to increase awareness on the responsibilities of investors, including through identifying and addressing risks to human rights and environmental defenders.

"Investors should adopt and implement a zero-tolerance policy and approach against attacks on defenders in business relationships, agreements, and investment decision-making." /Swedwatch report


Call on business to intervene

Agribusiness is one of the most dangerous sectors for defenders, and Latin America the worst continent in terms of number of threats and attacks. After death threats against three women human rights defenders in Ecuador protecting the rights of banana workers, Swedwatch gathered signatures from over 40 civil society organisations in a joint call on companies sourcing from Ecuador to reach out to suppliers and take necessary steps to ensure the case is investigated.


Speaking up for migrants

reporttrappedinthekitchenthumb.jpgSwedwatch has for years highlighted the exploitation of migrant workers in global supply chains, one example being through an investigation on the situation for migrant workers in the Thai poultry industry, in which Swedwatch engaged with workers’ rights defenders and called on public procurers to act on risks facing migrant workers in food production. 

The report Trapped in the kitchen of the world revealed a range of violations including the confiscation of passports and work permits, illegal fees and debt bondage.

As a result of the report, ten Nordic food companies developed a joint initiative seeking to prevent abusive conditions at supplier factories, including by providing training sessions for migrant workers, staff and managers. Moreover, a coalition of food companies provided financial support to cover court costs for migrant workers charged in a criminal defamation court case by their employer. 

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