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Alternatives to PIL: Campaigning

PIL can be a useful tool to secure justice. But PIL is often just one part of a larger campaign, and is often not the only tool available to achieve your objectives.

Before launching a PIL action, it is helpful to consider alternative or parallel routes to achieving your objectives, which may be quicker, less costly, and more effective in securing justice in your circumstances than litigation.


Campaigning Outside the Courtroom

One of these alternatives is campaigning outside the courtroom. But even if you are involved in PIL, a good campaign alongside it is often important in securing your goal.


a) What is a Campaign?

A campaign is a co-ordinated range of activities dedicated to achieving a common goal.

This can involve;

  • Publicising the issue or behaviour in question
  • Lobbying or direct communication with people causing the issue or able to do something about it
  • Using the media including social media (Facebook, Twitter etc), newspapers, radio, TV
  • Demonstrations (e.g. publicly protesting about an issue or supporting a community/individual).
  • Workers strikes (e.g. refusing to work, as a group, in order to protest an issue).
  • Boycotting an organisation, government or product (e.g. refusing to buy from/sell to a certain entity in protest of its actions).
  • Petitioning a government/organisation (e.g. collecting signatures showing disapproval of an event/policy, and presenting it to the responsible government/organisation).


b) Why Start a Campaign?

Outside the courtroom, justice can be secured through effective advocacy and campaigning. This can create pressure for change, and influence the actions of governments and companies.

Campaigning can have the following advantages;

  • As campaigns aren’t limited to the parties and facts of one case, or the procedures of the courtroom, they can better address the causes and broader political issues surrounding an unjust event.
  • While campaigns are not cost-free, they don’t involve some of the costs of litigation (e.g. paying for legal representation).
  • Campaigns can effectively raise public awareness around an issue.
  • Campaigns can unite different groups/organisations under one common cause.

The effectiveness of campaigns has been proven throughout history, with many of the greatest achievements for social justice happening because of campaigns;

  • The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
  • The Civil Rights Movement in the USA.
  • Pro-democracy and human rights movements across Latin America, which led to the fall of many repressive regimes.
  • Anti-colonial movements across Africa and Asia, leading to billions gaining freedom from their colonial oppressors.

Campaigns can also be effective in securing justice regarding more specific issues. They are just as important on small local issues as large ones.

  • For example the protection of a small area of land as a nature reserve or the removal of a junior official who is corrupt.

After years of campaigning against the dirty supply chain of the diamond industry, Global Witness succeeded in getting diamond producing countries to establish a diamond certificate scheme. This has helped ensure the diamond industry no longer has a role in funding conflicts.


c) Disadvantages of Bringing a Campaign

Like PIL, there are risks disadvantages of bring a campaign.

Disadvantages include;

  • Difficulties in mobilising enough public support for a campaign to be effective.
  • Difficulties (and cost) in organising an effective mass movement.
  • Achieving your objectives through a campaign can be a long, time consuming, and exhausting process.
  • Being part of a campaign comes with risks to your safety. When powerful actors (governments/companies etc) are hostile to your cause, campaigners are often intimidated, threatened, and sometimes physically harmed.

Case Study
Indigenous and environmental rights activists in Para, Brazil, have launched a campaign against deforestation and the destruction of indigenous people’s land in the region. They have faced immense hostility from State authorities and the agribusiness sector. Tragically, this has lead to 44 activists being killed this year by police and paramilitaries.
But, when the alternative is exploitation and impunity, campaigning and seeking to enforce one’s rights through litigation remain the only tools available for the people of Para in the fight for their rights.
Instead of giving up, further campaigns have now been launched with the support of organisations to help protect environmental defenders and highlight the risks they face as they continue their fight.

Despite the risks of campaigning or bringing a PIL case, in the face of injustice, there is sometimes no alternative but to act to uphold your rights.

Practical Tip
Nevertheless, carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of campaigning (or bringing a PIL case) before taking further action.

Read the following pages for further information;


Launching an Effective Campaign

To create pressure for change, your campaign must be effective in achieving its goals.

This involves;

  • Targeting key individuals, governments, or companies responsible for or connected to the issue/wrongdoing.
  • Clearly highlighting the issue/wrongdoing, and setting out what specific result you want to achieve.
  • Directing your campaign to forums which create publicity and pressure against those individuals and companies.
  • Being specific in what you want to achieve (or to stop). Small simple symbolic goals and actions are often as effective as grand statements or gestures, especially where they highlight injustices
  • Maintaining the moral high ground; campaigns related to PIL are all about fairness, justice and protection of the vulnerable and powerless; campaigns should be conducted in this spirit;
  • Using what is sometimes called “carrot and stick”. This involves a mix of persuasion combined with an appropriate level of pressure. A good campaign highlights the potential advantages to the target of the campaign in changing things or putting right injustices, and the potential disadvantages of refusing to act. However threatening or oppressive campaign tactics should not be used; they are likely to be counterproductive and lose any moral high ground, as well as being illegal and endangering the campaign and its supporters.

By raising public awareness around an issue, this can create considerable embarrassment for even the most powerful, causing them to change their actions.


a) Who to Target?

To bring a successful campaign, a key aspect is choosing who to target.

This may not be the party directly responsible for the wrongdoing, but a connected individual, government, or company. This has similarities to choosing who to bring litigation against, which can also involve a wide range of potential defendants (see “Who Can I Sue?”).

A key difference in bringing a campaign (compared to litigation) is that it is not fundamental to have a strong legal case against the target of your campaign.

Rather, the best target is often a connected government, company, or group, who is most likely to respond to pressure, moral appeal, or embarrassment created over the issue.


i) The Wrongdoing of a Company

In addition to campaigning directly against the company responsible, consider targeting the following entities;

  • Stakeholders in a company, such as shareholders, investors, banks and service providers the company relies on.
  • Governments who have relations with the company and could regulate or put pressure on them to change their behaviour.
  • Customers of that company’s products. Even though there is no legal case against them, this can create a lot of pressure for the company to change its behaviour, by affecting their profitability and public image.

Local communities in India successfully campaigned to stop Vedanta (a British mining giant) opening a mine on their lands. This involved sustained targeting of the company, its investors, and the Indian government, who eventually revoked the license.


ii) The Wrongdoing of a Government

In addition to campaigning directly against the government responsible, consider the following entities;

  • Countries which support your government, are connected to the wrongdoing, or are sympathetic to your cause. Targeting such countries can create pressure against your government, causing it to change its actions.
  • International organisations (e.g. World Bank, IMF etc). Generally, IOs do not want to be associated with abusive governments. Targeting them regarding the actions of governments they are working with can lead to pressure being put on your government.

In the famous anti-apartheid campaign, countries, companies and organisations across the world were targeted regarding their relations with South Africa. This succeeded in isolating the SA government and bringing about an intensive sanctions program, helping the local grassroots movement achieve justice.


b) Highlighting the Issue and Solution

Once it is decided who your campaign will target, you need a clear message highlighting the issue and what specific result you need to secure justice.

To be effective, your campaign needs evidence showing wrongdoing has occurred. This has similarities to gathering evidence for litigation, but need not be in the same level of detail or follow the same procedures, as you may be highlighting an ethical, rather than a legal wrong (see “How Can I Prove my Case?”).

Practical Tip
Images, videos, and personal accounts are often key. These can make a greater impression on the target.

The exact nature of your campaign will depend on who it is targeting, but consider;

  • Specifically highlighting the target’s connection or involvement in the issue.
  • Comparing a company/government’s misconduct to ethical statements they have made, codes of conduct, or principles they have signed up to. This can cause great embarrassment and pressure for change.

After the Rana Plaza tragedy, where over 1000 exploited Bangladeshi workers died in a textile factory fire, the “Clean Clothes Campaign” targeted big clothing brands connected to the factory, getting many to commit to a compensation fund. A key part of their strategy was to highlight big brands’ role in the disaster and expose the hypocrisy of their ethical codes of conduct.



Practical Tips
To build support for your campaign, it can be useful to highlight a specific result you want to achieve.

For example, to protect an indigenous community’s land in a section of the Amazon, rather than the protection of rainforests generally.

This can help people connect to the issue and appreciate the aim of a campaign. Although a combination of appeals to specific and broader issues can be effective too. This depends on the issue and your audience.


c) Where to Bring my Campaign?

Where can your message be brought so that it creates the most pressure against the targeted group?

This will depend on your target, issue and level of resources.

You can bring your campaign to multiple forums, mobilising support and creating pressure in different sectors. Remember that what is needed is pressure for change exerted not where you are but where the targets of the campaign will feel it

Available forums can include;

  • Local community gatherings or events. If your target and issues are local, it may be most effective to bring your campaign to local events, capable of mobilising community groups and leaders around your issue.
  • Special events, such as conferences involving the target groups, can be a useful place to bring your campaign and create immediate pressure.
  • International forums, such as the UN or regional bodies, can generate widespread publicity on an issue and can be particularly effective in putting pressure on governments.
  • Co-ordinated campaigns on social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, can reach wide audiences across the world, creating awareness and pressure for change around issues rapidly.

Following the abduction of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria, by militant group Boko Haram, social media was a key in supporting local campaigners, and mobilising international and national support to secure their return.


Practical Tip
Build broad alliances. Your campaign (and PIL case) will be most effective if it gains support from a wide range of individuals, communities, public interest groups, and NGOs. This can be essential for gathering the resources and creating the pressure needed for a successful campaign.


Campaigning and PIL

Remember that different methods of advocacy can be used together in your fight for justice.

While campaigns are an alternative to PIL, they can be used to support a PIL case. In fact, a combination of both can be the most effective strategy for securing justice.

On one hand;

  • Campaigning can create public awareness around the broader issue a PIL case concerns. This can help raise support for your case from other groups/organisations.
  • By drawing attention to the issue, campaigns can help ensure the litigation process is transparent and fair. This can help protect against intimidation and corruption in the legal process.

On the other hand;

  • A PIL case can itself generate publicity and apply additional pressure on an individual, company or government.
  • Litigation can support campaigns by protecting the rights of campaigners and free speech generally. This can be essential for the effectiveness of campaigns and the safety of campaigners.

Across Latin America, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights has protected many environmental and human rights activists from imminent threats by issuing “provisional measures”, ordering their governments to provide for their immediate security needs.

For more information on the benefits of PIL, see “Is Public Interest Litigation for Me?”).

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