Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


NGOs told to give firms benefit of doubt

September 2001

Non-governmental organizations must give companies the benefit of the doubt when they make public statements about their aspirations on human rights, an expert in the field has said.

Amnesty International business group manager Peter Frankental argues in a new paper that ‘when a company associates itself with values of any kind it is often making a statement of how it wishes to be perceived, rather than of what it actually does.’

‘This creates a gap between aspirations and reality … which causes many NGOs to dismiss aspirational statements as a public relations exercise.’ However, he warns that if NGOs reject a company’s aspirational statements, they risk ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’, as before a company can integrate social values into its operations it must develop the aspiration to do so. ‘This is not only a necessary first step but could be viewed as a major breakthrough in putting social values on the corporate agenda’.

Frankental concludes that any positive change to a company’s business principles is significant as it then knows that if it fails to deliver, its credibility will suffer.

‘While branding can never serve as the motor of change, it may assist the process of putting human rights and other ethical principles into practice’, he adds.

‘A company that ties its flag to the mast of human rights is offering a hostage to fortune. If it fails to deliver on its stated commitments, its credibility will be at stake.’ Frankental’s paper, ‘Can branding reinforce human rights?’, appears in the third of a series of booklets from Financial Times Prentice Hall called Visions of ethical business.

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