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Lecture Four - Campaigning NGOs, their role and trends for business
Lecture Four: NGOs - The impact
and activities of campaign groups
January 28th 2015
Lecturer: Tobias Webb
Where do campaigners come from?
• Consequence of rising middle class wealth in the
West back in the 1960s
• Arose also because impacts of corporate activity
were becoming clearer (napalm, corruption,
pollution, human rights etc)
• Gained ground in 1970s and 1980s (rainforests,
famines, oil spills, pandas, dolphins and tigers)
• Began targeting companies much more in 1990s
• By the noughties NGOs realised they could better
achieve some aims by going after vulnerable
brands than disinterested governments
Who are we talking about?
• ‘Green’ NGOs: Greenpeace, WWF, Rainforest Action
Network, Friends of the Earth etc
• ‘Human rights’ and ‘community’ / ‘people’ / poverty NGOs:
Amnesty, Solidaridad, Human Rights Watch, Forest Peoples
Programme, Earthrights, etc
• Corruption, Governance, development NGOs: Global
Witness, Oxfam, ActionAid, etc
Many now straddle all three categories…important shift as we
realise how interlocked these different issues are…
Is there a business case for being
Well, apparently…but by campaigning investors
rather than pure activists. Shareholder activism
may have business benefits…
Sarah Soule, professor of organizational
behavior at Stanford Graduate School of
Business, says shareholder activism by social
investors (NGOs in suits) can be good for
business, in the long term.
Is there a business case for being
• Soule, et. al. tracked outcomes of more than 750
shareholder resolutions related to environmental causes
and examined interactions between corporate activists and
• Research found that the more activists protested, the more
• And while activists couldn’t count on winning short-term
battles, simply engaging with corporations created change:
shareholder activism brings attention to issues.
Is there a business case for being
• The companies responded in part to help move
those issues onto a platform that they can
control, such as their own social responsibility
committee or publishing a report on a particular
• At the same time, that means the corporations
are now paying attention to concerns.
Is this really a business case?
It seems a bit weak, doesn’t it? But…
• This area is under-studied, so we don’t know.
• But its clear from many companies that activism, from
shareholder to NGO to individual, has had some benefits.
• These are so far hard to measure BUT:
• It’s clear companies who engage in stakeholder
engagement are more aware of risks they may not have
seen on their own. Anecdotal evidence is strong even
though it is hard to ‘prove’.
• It seems likely that non-shareholder campaigns have had a
similar, possibly bigger, impact. But the area is under-
Some recent campaigns: Greenpeace
• Now legendary campaign from 2010.
• Greenpeace broke into Nestle’s AGM.
• Dangled banners from ceiling.
• Released KitKat video, caused shockwaves.
• Resulted in deal between Palm Oil supplier
Golden Agri Resources, TFT and Greenpeace.
• Nestle then began sourcing from GAR again…
• A win all round for everyone?
McDonald’s and Amazon Soy
• Campaign by Greenpeace due to Amazon soy for chicken feed
• McDonald’s used purchasing power to catalyse change and helped
create farmer moratorium on Amazon soy development, with
• Useful background reading here and here.
• Success? “Only 115 people out of several thousand soy farmers
have violated the Soy Moratorium since 2006, but over 600 of them
have violated the Brazilian Forest Code”.
• “Same group of farmers is five times more likely to violate the
governmental policy than they are to violate the private sector
agreement”. Scary? Possibly. But it works…
• McDonald’s: “we purchased through our upstream suppliers less
than ½ of 1% of soy in the marketplace”
• But used brand power and supplier influence to create a system still
in place and still successful.
Live case study: Greenpeace vs.
PepsiCo: The story so far on Palm Oil
What the media reports
Clean Clothes Campaign vs Retail
Rana Plaza factory disaster April 2013
• CCC spurred serious collaborative action on
Bangladesh safety standards. The Accord and a
weaker US initiative.
• Demanding brands pay more than brands think
they are responsible for in compensation
• Accused of breaking confidences after Wal-Mart
• Consistently maintain pressure on US and EU
brands on key issues such as pay, conditions,
union organisation, safety and compensation.
Oxfam and Unilever
• Worked together in 2003 on Indonesia study
• Painful process for both sides: Particularly Unilever!
• Resulting in some meaningful insights for both
• Helped Unilever understand its ‘economic and social
footprint’ and Oxfam to understand challenges
• Since then Unilever invited Oxfam to undertake
uncensored public audit of Vietnam supply chain
• Findings were challenging for Unilever but helped the
company see gaps and issues to be tackled in the
“Behind the Brands” report
• Produced by Oxfam, ranks FMCG companies on
supply chain social issues
• Spurred competition from FMCG firms. Many
execs cite it as having major impact on plans
• Companies complained of old data being used, of
• Nevertheless, has had significant impact as have
many other ‘rankings’ and comparisons by NGOs
i.e. Electronics, Chemicals, Human Rights
(forthcoming ‘ranking’ from NGOs)
• Founded 1993. Ted video here.
• Did the research behind Blood Diamond
• Played key role in Kimberly Process and EITI
• Focus on Governments, Companies and
Emerging Market players (Beny Steinmetz)
• Also focus on murders of journalists.
• Some crossover with campaigners: Oxfam, WWF,
Environmental Defense Fund etc.
• Many like to focus more on solutions and on the ground
• Here’s an example: Anglo American and Care International
• Many of them out there. From big NGOs such as Save the
Children and Catholic Relief Services, Red
Cross/Crescent/Habitat for Humanity, World Vision,
UNICEF, VSO, WaterAid, Grameen.
• To smaller locally focused ones working on local/national
issues such as water, microfinance, training, farmer training
etc (millions of them, two million in India alone!)
SHIFT: Human Rights NGO
• Extremely practical, implementation NGO
• Came out of the Ruggie Process (UN Guiding
Principles on Business and Human Rights).
• Globally focused, non-judgmental.
• Lean, mobile and collaborative.
• Non profit consultancy: What does that
mean? Classic consultants sometimes
complain about hybrid consultant/NGOs…
“Legitimate” criticisms of some leading
They/some of them: (according to some in business)
• Claim credit for things which they were not 100%
responsible for. Things that might have happened anyhow
• Illegally record meetings and break confidences.
• Twist some of the facts to suit them, sometimes (GMOs,
nuclear, supply chain power).
• Use hammers to crack nuts.
• Don’t always think about long term market solutions but
focus on quick wins to keep supporters happy and maintain
momentum – but towards what?
• Are often far weaker on practical solutions.
For business: Some NGOs can be a bit
• A Canadian forestry NGO…
• …targets a banana company…(Dole)
• …to ask them to commit to never use diesel in their trucks
in the USA…
• …that has come from tar sands in Canada.
• Ok there’s an environmental benefit, but one might argue,
isn’t the time and effort best spent on a) a less obtuse
target and b) actually researching either downside of tar
sands or upside of renewable technologies? Discuss…
The ‘reality’ is…
• Having spent 14 years studying NGO campaigners, the
reality, as I see it is:
• They have been one of, if not the top, driver of change
in large companies.
• Yes they get some things wrong. Some deliberately so,
some exaggerate. Some can behave unethically.
• But all in all, they drive positive change because they
encourage broader view of the world and they
force/encourage stakeholder engagement.
• That can only be good for companies in the long run.
• Is the exception to this issues such as GM foods and
nuclear? Depends on your point of view…
Questions for debate
1. The influence of campaigners on business at least, is growing.
2. China is experimenting with allowing them to sue companies.
3. Campaigners are under pressure in places such as India and
Russia, for ‘restricting growth’ – is this fair?
4. Campaigners are accused of not representing the ‘average’ view –
does this mean they really represent civil society ?
5. Is it right for them to ‘fudge facts’ for the greater good? Who
should decide what that greater good actually is?
6. In the absence of regulatory enforcement in many countries, and
a lack of business voluntarism, campaigners fill the gap. Is this
right and fair that campaigners create pressure on brands to drive
progress in the face of a governance gap?
7. Should campaigners be more ‘publicly accountable’?