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Environmental organisations give boost to corporate social responsibility

12 May 2010 NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research)

Pressure from environmental organisations on the private sector has given a considerable boost to corporate social responsibility, says Dutch researcher Mari√ętte van Huijstee. As a result of this, companies are now anticipating the criticism of environmental organisations.

Environmental organisations are increasingly demanding that companies make their products and production methods more people and environmentally friendly. For the companies under fire, contact with these environmental organisations has become a standard part of corporate social responsibility. For many well-known multinationals, the interaction has become a necessity, even if only to safeguard their own reputation, says Mari√ętte van Huijstee. She investigated the interaction between non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and companies. Some contacts result in partnerships whereas others remain hostile.

Growing number of partnerships

The number of companies and organisations entering into partnerships has increased sharply over the past 10 years. For example, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is invited to consult and enter into partnerships with an increasingly diverse group of companies. Rabobank routinely and proactively involves various NGOs in the development of its corporate social responsibility policy. Moreover, the partnerships are increasingly extending to cover all companies involved in the production of goods and services from the start to the end of the chain. Van Huijstee has introduced the term 'private responsibility arrangements' to describe the increasingly standardised cooperation between companies and moderate NGOs.

'Radicals' still play an important role

Despite the increasing cooperation between environmental groups and companies, it is highly unlikely that the more radical NGOs such as Milieudefensie will ever become intensively involved in these cooperative arrangements with conventional multinationals. Nevertheless, these more radical and critical NGOs still play an important role. Their campaigns often motivate companies to seek partnerships with milder NGOs that have a cooperative outlook.

Government also has a task

Companies who are less in the consumer spotlight are relatively immune to campaigns of critical groups and therefore escape the pressure to participate in private responsibility arrangements. The researcher emphasises that NGOs and companies need government assistance to ensure a more widespread take-up of corporate social responsibility within the private sector.

The PhD research 'Companies and NGOs in interaction, in search of corporate social responsibility' was carried out at Utrecht University under the auspices of the research programme Partnerships for sustainable development which is funded by the NWO programme Social Scientific Research into Nature and the Environment (GaMON).

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