The UK has introduced laws which limit the independence of charities
New laws that restrict the ability of charities to campaign puts the UK alongside Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Indonesia and Algeria, according to a major charity finance body.
A Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) report into giving around the world highlights the recent UK Lobbying Act as an example of government restricting the freedoms of not-for-profit organisations.
It has warned that stopping charities from criticising government could also put off the public from donating.
While governments may want to ensure that public donations to not-for-profits are used responsibly, their methods for doing so are effectively gagging charities and holding them back from achieving their missions
Charities campaigned against the the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 before it was passed at Westminster earlier this year. It has been widely criticised for potentially limiting the ability of non-governmental orgnaisations (NGOs) to influence government policy in the 12 months before an election.
CAF claims that it is a move that echoes intentional and unintentional government decisions around the world that are stifling the voice of NGOs.
Adam Pickering from CAF said: “It’s frightening to see how many countries have recently tightened controls on the activities of not-for-profit organisations.
“While governments may want to ensure that public donations to not-for-profits are used responsibly, their methods for doing so are effectively gagging charities and holding them back from achieving their missions.”
The rise in public giving among a new generation of middle-class people around the world is expected to contribute $224 billion a year to good causes by 2030.
However, the report warns laws that limit the independence of charities could jeopardise this income.
“It is invaluable that not-for-profits are free to do things differently, to take risks and to speak out on behalf of the marginalised. Policy makers need to recognise this and ensure they do not create a barrier to these activities,” said Pickering.
According to research highlighted in the report, 73% of people across 15 countries supported the idea that NGOs should hold government to account.
Despite this, in many countries around the world, NGOs do not have this freedom.
In Venezuela organisations that criticise the government have faced informal, personal threats and prosecution of their members.
In Thailand and Cambodia it is possible to be charged with defamation against the government for criticising their policies. This is a criminal offence with the possibility of two years in jail, meaning that NGOs feel unable to take on the risk of speaking out against the state.
The report also looks at how government funding of not-for-profit organisations can impact their independence. Without strong rules guiding relationships, these organisations can become mere contractors to government – a problem exacerbated by the inclusion of “gagging clauses” that prohibit public criticism.
To tackle this, the report lays out a number of recommendations that include ensuring not-for-profits are free to criticise government and influence policy.