A conversation with Gillian Caldwell

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

As we are getting closer to this year’s Global Land Forum ILC had a conversation with Gillian Caldwell CEO of Global Witness, to gain more perspective on the international issues of protecting land and environmental defenders.  Gillian will be speaking at the GLF in Bandung this September.  

Since last year, there has been a spike in assassinations of environmental and land defenders in different parts of the globe. How do you explain this trend?

The steady incline in the killings of earth and land rights defenders relates to the rapacious drive for natural resources around the world. Resource demand is increasing as population expands so companies and governments are entering new terrain to access resources and minerals to meet their profit motive and in some cases their ostensible development objectives. As they move into previously untouched terrain, they are facing increased resistance from indigenous peoples, who have managed these territories independently for centuries, or in other cases communities that depend on land for subsistence if not their culture and way of life.

The second prevalent trend that enables these killings is the global crackdown of civil society including restrictions on the rights to freedom of speech and assembly. Many activists are being targeted and face retaliation, including trumped-up charges of terrorism and slander to their character and activities. If you combine these trends, and the profit-at-any-price mentality all too often consuming international business today, with the global environment of impunity that exists in so many countries around the world, where governments such as the US are sending an anything goes message, it leads to the abuse of citizens and this is seen as accepted behaviour – or worse yet the cost of doing business.


What role can the media play in remedying social and economic inequalities? Is using the media to challenge inequalities a valid strategy for activists?

Media exposure is a means of shining a spotlight on human rights abuses, environmental threats and corruption. At Global Witness we deploy an investigate, expose and advocate methodology. When it comes to exposure, we think strategically about who needs to hear the story and who has the power to influence what’s going on. Sometimes the media can help elevate the public consciousness. Where business is concerned, we may try and target media that is consumed in that industry more specifically. Finally, media is increasingly relying on investigative work of organizations like Global Witness as newsrooms are less present in capitals worldwide with media struggling to find viable revenue models.  


What do you hope the participants will get out of the Global Land Forum? What is your message to the ILC members attending?

The GLF is a terrific opportunity to take a step back from the day to day and share knowledge and insights on global and local trends. It’s a chance to try collectively to come to conclusions about higher impact and collaboration that can really change the circumstances that we live in globally: inequality, epidemic levels of land grabbing, land degradation, much more carbon intensive uses of land. We can’t work harder than we are, but we can always work smarter. Working together we can generate impact that amounts to more than the sum of our parts. It is also an important opportunity for exchange, learning, and insight between the global north & global south to deepen our partnerships.


Interested in reading more about land and environmental defenders? Check out these resources.

Global Witness

At What Cost: Irresponsible business and the murder or land and environmental defenders in 2017 




Global Witness is an international NGO that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide.