Do we want to go down the road of charities reporting funding from outside the UK?
A functioning and vibrant civil society and charity sector is essential for any healthy and open democracy. Among many other things, these organisations advocate for individual dignity and human rights, defend democratic values, foster public debate, and hold public officials to account.
So, it is bad news for everyone when actions are taken that have the effect of limiting the impact of these organisations.
Sometimes the application of these limits are unintentional – new regulations on funding or reporting can place an unfair administrative burden or can lead to the bankruptcy of (particularly smaller) organisations. On other occasions the actions are clearly intentional – such as by forcing the closure of offices or arresting staff, as was done recently to the chapter of Amnesty International in Turkey.
In some countries, however, regimes severely restrict civic space and silence dissenting or critical civil society voices by exploiting and manipulating transparency or reporting rules for ‘reasons’ of ensuring national security, stopping terrorist financing or increasing financial accountability. It is here where (semi-)open societies suddenly find themselves heading down a slippery slope towards limited democratic and civic rights, or even authoritarian government.
Some examples from CIVICUS Monitor exemplify the issue:
So to see the UK Charity Commission also propose measures related to the reporting and collection of charity income from outside the UK is of concern, not only because of the impact it may have on UK civil society, but more importantly because of the message it sends out to undemocratic regimes around the world which are looking for examples from ‘the West’ to legitimise their actions and silence their critics.
That is why Involve raised these concerns in its submission to the recent Charity Commission consultation on annual returns which proposed reporting requirements on foreign funding of UK charities.
The Charity Commission should carefully assess not only the potential impact of its proposed reporting requirements on charities operating in the UK, but also the wider global impact of adopting these measures, as going down this road of reporting foreign funding in the UK may undermine global efforts to protect civic space in other countries where civil society is under threat.
Feature photo: ‘Money’ by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (Creative Commons licence), see https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/178711986