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How can NGOs tackle taboo subjects like human rights in Singapore?

Civic groups charge that an anti-foreign interference bill will muzzle civil society. How can activists safely advocate for human rights? Eco-Business asked Vanessa Ho from Project X and Fair Finance Asia's Bernadette Victorio.

Taboo subjects

In September, Singapore passed a controversial law that grants authorities to order social media sites and internet providers to disclose information or block content that is deemed hostile. The government can also designate organisations or individuals as “politically significant”.  

The broad, vague scope of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act, also known as FICA, has had a chilling effect on non-government organisations (NGOs) operating in the city-state, who charge that it hands arbitrary power to the Singapore governments to dish out punishment on those is deems as troublemakers. Penalties for breaking the rules include up to 14 years in prision and S$100,000 (US$74,200) in fines. 

FICA makes it increasingly hard to advocate for issues such as human rights or environmental protection safely. The rules of engagement for NGOs have now been left vague as terms such as “foreign interference” are broadly defined. What can be done to preserve the already-limited civic society space in Singapore, where it is increasingly difficult to campaign on Singapore-sensitive topics like race, gender, labour and the environment?

Vanessa Ho of Project X and Bea Victorio of Fair Finance Asia

Vanessa Ho of Project X and Bea Victorio of Fair Finance Asia

Joining the Eco-Business Podcast to tackle these questions are Vanessa Ho, executive director of Project X, an NGO that campaigns for the rights of sex workers in Singapore, and Bernadette Victorio, programme director for Fair Finance Asia, which pushes for a fairer, more sustainable finance system.

Tune in as talk about:

  • The rules of engagement for NGOs in Singapore
  • A campaign to help Vietnamese bar workers ensnared in a Covid-scandal
  • What FICA means for NGOs
  • How can businesses talk about human rights?
  • Compassion fatigue and human rights
  • How to rejuvenate Singapore’s NGO sector
  • The need to connect like-minded people

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