Some of companies and without the need of governmental

Some firms prefer to engage in a
dialogue in order to display the constraints to access NGOs’ demands (Burchell
and Cook, 2013). NGOs are able to implement change by themselves with the
support of companies and without the need of governmental policies that are
often considered too slow (Burchell and Cook, 2013). In 2006, a Dutch bank
named Rabobank got in contact with WNF (WWF for Netherlands) as the NGO wanted
to create climate friendly credit-cards. The margin made on every card would be
used to reduce carbon emissions. This allowed Rabobank to increase its customer
base while being a more sustainable business with a better reputation due to their
partnership with WNF. The initial reason pushing
Rabobank to adopt those cards being that they wanted to touch an environmentally-friendly customer base (Van Huijstee and Glasbergen,
2010), and appearing as an ethical brand was the best way of doing so.

This customer base is also used in
other sectors such as the food industry. Evidence suggests
that a lot of consumers feel better by buying ethical goods (Barnett,
Cloke and Malpass, 2005) and are more value-centric (Doran, 2009), therefore
creating a new way to differentiate products for companies (Bhattacharya and
Sen, 2004). For example, even though free-range eggs are on average 25% more
expensive than regular eggs, they account for 35% of egg sales which is an important
market share (Smith, 2008). This clearly shows the positive impact of the ethical product for the
consumer’s mind. The fact that NGOs raised awareness about environmental issues
and created a customer base (Smith, 2003) for those products, encouraged firms to
switch their production in order to make it more environmentally-friendly. We see
this with other firms such as Innocent, Ben and Jerry’s or the Body
Shop, dedicated to ensure business sustainability.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now


How is civil society’s
action limited?


It is legitimate to ask ourselves if
the impact of NGOs is always positive. When an NGO acquires enough credibility,
most of what the organisation says is taken for granted, as people tend to
trust NGOs more than states or businesses (Gray, Bebbington and Collison, 2006).
This was the case with Shell in 1995. The company wanted to proceed with a sea disposal of an oil platform, which was strongly criticized by Greenpeace
because of the possible levels of pollution that this disposal could provoke if
there was an issue (Giugni, 1998). However, the data that Greenpeace transmitted
to the public and the press was actually incorrect/
(Mitchener, 1995). Greenpeace had to apologize a few months later for
delivering misleading information
(Arts, 2002). This clearly shows that civil society’s action can
lead to excesses because of a lack of accurate information. Even though NGOs are highly trusted, they
are not as regulated as a government institution and can make mistakes which can
damage their credibility.  

As some NGOs are inclined to work
with businesses, others wish to maintain complete independence
(Van Huijstee and Glasbergen, 2010). Some of NGOs’ demands are impossible to
consider as they are too radical or have the sole
purpose of hurting the company. This was the case of Exxon Mobil, an oil
company which was asked by Greenpeace to decrease its production of a
particularly polluting fuel. The cost incurred by such change was huge and could potentially
damage the firm even more than a boycott which led Exxon
Mobil to refuse each demand. No progress was therefore made on this issue,
Exxon faced damage to its reputation and Greenpeace
didn’t manage to
improve sustainability performances (The Economist, 2003). Drawing on that
example, we can argue that even if confrontation can sometimes be preferred to
a dialogue, the NGO should be able to show an acceptable way for the company so
that both organizations are satisfied.

One of the main purpose of NGOs is to raise public awareness on issues which has an indirect
impact on their consumption (Kendall, Gill, and Cheney, 2007). Voguel (2005,
cited in Smith, 2008, p.5) stated that “90% of consumers consider corporate
responsibility in their purchase and consumption behaviors”. However, this
claim is challenged by the reality of it. A 2004 European study showed that only 3% of
consumers actually do change their consumer behaviour. This can be explained by
the fact that people tend to answer what is most socially acceptable to say in
surveys (Vogel, 2005). Kendall, Gill and Cheney argue that: “The key is that stakeholder groups,
such as consumers, perceive themselves as a group” (p.251). This clearly shows that raising awareness on those issues is not enough and if there is not a
general movement about a product or brand, people may be discouraged in
changing their behaviour, thus limiting civil society’s action.


Conditions ensuring an effective civil society’s campaign


We will now
determine the conditions needed for successful civil society’s actions. First,
we can say that the best way for NGOs to create a strong incentive for
implementing change in companies is to create a business case for Corporate
Social Responsibility. Smith (2008) defines: “The business case is often grounded in three
key drivers: that consumers, employees, and investors care in ways that create
economic incentives for companies to give attention to corporate
responsibility.” (p. 2). This can be explained by the fact that civil society’s
pressures under the form of boycotts, letter-writings, protests, media
coverage, etc. can impact firms in such a way
that it becomes economically more interesting to implement change without
resisting civil society. At a certain point, it is more relevant for all
stakeholders to implement change, therefore satisfying everyone (Smith, 2008).

Another key aspect that civil society should
consider before taking any action against companies is
their level of information about the targeted firms. Dialogue between civil
society and firms is one way to improve it. Arts (2002) argues that those
alliances allow NGOs to design the policies needed while companies benefit from an improved brand image due to their
cooperation with an NGO. However, some NGOs prefer to stay independent and to
keep their distance with firms (Van Huijstee and Glasbergen, 2010). In that
case, drawing on examples like ExxonMobil or Shell, it seems that keeping a
realistic mindset about what can be done is
preferable. This was
the case for WWF-UK concerning the deforestation
of the Amazon rainforest. The NGO had been
campaigning for years since the 1980s in order to get companies to engage in
more sustainable processes; yet they failed
to obtain an international agreement. Because of a more aware public and the
acknowledgment that the current wood business led to
a dead-end, major suppliers engaged
themselves to respect WWF targets for sustainability (Murphy and Bendell,

if NGOs want to be able to have a lasting impact on companies, an accurate transfer of information
from the NGO towards the consumers and the media is
required. Indeed, the only leverage possessed by NGOs is their means to
influence consumer behaviour and the media so
that pressure is created around targeted firms (Kendall, Gill and Cheney, 2007).
“Consumers are empowered to make decisions
when provided adequate information by transparent institutions.” (Kendall et
al., 2007, p.250). The use of numerous tools such as media coverage, websites
and social media in order to keep consumers
updated and to create generalized movements is key to NGOs success.

We can now conclude that the main purpose of
NGOs and civil society’s campaigning is to promote business sustainability. To
do so, they use various tactics such as letter-writing, boycotts, dialogue,
etc. in order to create incentives forcing the company to implement business
sustainability. However, those actions are limited as NGOs can sometimes be too
radical in their demands or poorly informed
on the target company and consumers may not
be influenced enough to participate to ethical consumption, which can lead to
counter-productive results. Finally, we defined
the different conditions that differentiate successful actions from failed
ones. Those conditions seem to be: a good
understanding of the firm’s constraints and assets, the creation of a strong
enough business case for corporate social responsibility in order to please all
stakeholders and finally the education of
consumers and the media, by
all means possible, in order to
generate global actions. We
believe that when all of those conditions are gathered, civil society’s
campaigning can be considered as effective in promoting business sustainability
and therefore become a new type of governance in this globalized world.