Business and Democracy

Over the recent Fourth of July weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a major speech on democracy at the High Level Meeting of the Community of Democracies in Krakow, Poland, which was held from July 2-4.

I was privileged to have attended the conference on behalf of CIPE — and to have seen Secretary Clinton’s speech in person. I could have written this blog about some of the thematic elements in her speech — like the importance of a vibrant civil society in a functioning democracy and the need for civil society to be defended from the increasing instances of repression that they are currently experiencing in dozens of countries. Or I could have expounded on her references to “democratic governance,” the importance of “well-functioning markets,” and growing the private sector to achieve “broad based prosperity.” In context, however, this speech is important for a number of other reasons.

First, this speech lays down a clear marker that the US remains committed to supporting democratic reform in countries around the world.  The approach to doing so was recently captured in the National Security Strategy. But Secretary Clinton’s passionate speech on the value of democracy before the world is much more than issuing a 70 page strategy document, mostly consumed by embassy officials and think tank policy wonks.

Second, in addition to talking about the value of democracy and elevating it to a high-profile issue of concern, Secretary Clinton laid out specific challenges for a number of individual countries to improve their record on democracy and human rights.

Finally, the Community of Democracies (Cod) itself has often suffered over its ten year history from a lack of government attention and seriousness — at least in between the periodic ministerial meetings — and an inconsistent approach by the governments towards the multitude of civil society organizations who have loyally stood by the CoD and sought to engage it on so many vitally serious and innovative levels. The CoD needed a swift shot of hope, focus and seriousness, and I think Secretary Clinton’s speech may have been just the antidote to the lethargy and ambivalence many were feeling towards the CoD in the run-up to this commemoration of its tenth anniversary.

Along with a Lithuanian government that seems incredibly focused and committed to restoring vigor and rigor to the CoD, I am hopeful that in 5 years time we will look back on Secretary Clinton’s speech and the Krakow conference rescued the CoD from near irrelevance and finally made it the vessel for democratic action, cooperation, and allegiance that Madeleine Albright and Bronislaw Geremek envisioned.

One step in that direction has been the establishment of the Corporate Democracy Forum (CDF) at the CoD meeting in July.

The CDF will advise the Community of Democracies on issues and activities that promote democracy from a business perspective and facilitate partnership between businesses and business associations in new, struggling, and established democracies with a particular emphasis on women and young entrepreneurs. It will provide expertise on rule of law, contracts, corporate governance, accountability, competition policy, and serve as a clearinghouse of projects and ideas to enhance collaboration and promote synergies.

Business now officially joins governments and civil society in the effort to make democracy work.  This is certainly a welcome new voice in the CoD debate.

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