Tricky Business: Space for Civil Society in Natural Resource Struggles

Carolijn Terwindt, Christian Schliemann-Radbruch

We are experiencing an unprecedented worldwide race for natural resources: Governments and national as well as transnational corporations are driving the demand for water, land, fossil fuels, raw materials, and organic resources of all kinds, as never before. Thousands of people are losing their livelihoods and are being more or less forcibly displaced as a consequence.

The few hard-fought participation rights of the public that have made it into law in recent decades, as well as ecological and social standards – assuming any existed in the first place – have impeded investors and their attempts to explore and extract resources. Therefore, these rights and standards are being curbed or watered down.

Business interests and profit-orientation are competing with sustainable and just resource policies, environmental protections, democratic standards, and human rights. The rule of law as well as legally established environmental and social standards are overriden in favour of the enforcement of investment interests, as the study Tricky Business: Space for Civil Society in Natural Resource Struggles by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung and ECCHR shows.

The authors – Carolijn Terwindt and Christian Schliemann of the ECCHR – traveled to India, South Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines to study projects and talk to civil society activists and organizations on the ground. The resulting analysis provides us with insights on how we can better address and monitor resource and environmental policy projects. The counterstrategies that civil society actors use to defend themselves against restrictions and repression are particularly revealing.