Ngo Strategies for Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility

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Repinted from Ethics & International Affairs 1 6 ,n o. 2. © 2002 by Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.

NGO Strategies for Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility Morton Winston*


he current era of corporate globalization has not altered the fundamental nature of the struggle for human rights, but it has shifted its context and created new opportunities and challenges for the global human rights movement. Since the early 1990s this movement, which used to focus exclusively on the policies and practices of nation-states, has begun examining the role of multinational corporations and international financial institutions in the protection and promotion of human rights. This article describes and evaluates the different strategies that have been employed by human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in attempting to influence the behavior of multinational corporations (MNCs). Within the NGO world, there is a basic divide on tactics for dealing with corporations: Engagers try to draw corporations into dialogue in order to persuade them by means of ethical and prudential arguments to adopt voluntary codes of conduct, while confronters believe that corporations will act only when their financial interests are threatened,and therefore take a more adversarial stance toward them. The latter approach is more in line with traditional labor union strategies and tactics,and in fact is often motivated by a desire to maintain solidarity with union partners. Confrontational NGOs tend to employ moral stigmatization, or “naming and shaming,” as their primary tactic, while NGOs that favor engagement offer dialogue

and limited forms of cooperation with willing MNCs.

At least five factors have contributed to human rights NGOs’ interest in the business sector: • a perceived shift of power from nati on states to MNCs and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; • the lack of social and environmental accountability of MNCs under existing national and international laws; • the growing anti-corpora te - gl ob a l i z a ti on movement; • a conclusion on the part of large, international human rights organizations that they have been too focused on traditional categories of civil and political rights while neglecting economic, social, and cultu ra l rights; and • a desire on the part of some people in the NGO world to enlist MNCs and business *

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the meetings of the Comparative International Studies Section of the International Studies Association in Washington, D.C., on August 29, 2000. The author gratefully acknowledges comments and suggestions provided by Christian Barry, Simon Billenness, Geoffrey Chandler, Gemma Crijns, George Frynas, Arvind Ganesan, Rebecca Johnson, Joshua Karliner, and Scott Pegg. The views presented in this article are solely those of the author acting in his private capacity as an independent scholar.


executives as allies and as potential levers for promoting human rights globally.

Undoubtedly the most important factor is the perception that political and economic power has shifted away from governments and toward corporations, in particular MNCs. In the developed industrial nations of the North, mainly the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan, state and national governments are often seen as doing the bidding of their major corporations. Increasingly, they resemble plutocracies in which corpora ti ons control the political agenda while also dominating the marketplace. In the South, large Northernbased MNCs often have more economic power than governments, and nominally democratic crony-capitalist oligarchies continue to control access to most of the valuable natural resources while maintaining power over impoverished populations by force. Within NGOs,there is a widely held view that multinational corporations,already the dominant institutions...
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