Activist NGOs continue to resist the trend towards partnerships with business, preferring direct action to engagement

Spring is nearing. If you’re an activist NGO, that means only one thing: AGM season. The annual general meeting has become a ritual for anti-corporate campaigners. They prepare their banners, advise the press, don an outlandish costume and shout from the pavement.

It has not always been so. When campaign groups first came to light, back in the early 1970s, corporations weren’t the big players in town. It was governments. The activists’ campaign goals mirrored those of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, namely changing the rules. If the oceans were being polluted by toxic waste or if whale populations were under threat from hunting, a new convention was needed. And campaigners made sure legislators knew it.

As the economy liberalised and corporations globalised, the focus of campaign groups changed accordingly. From 1980 onwards, Big Business was increasingly seen as muscling in on the public governance process. They fixed trade rules, lobbied for subsidies, bullied local competitors, abused workers – or so campaigners saw it.

For campaigners, nowhere was this scenario more true than in the developing world – the focus of many of their social and environmental concerns. Foreign corporations maintained that their investments marked an antidote to...

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Activist  NGO  NGO campaigning  Oliver Balch  partnerships  stakeholder engagement 

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