NGO collaborations: to have, to hold?November 2013
While the threat of being tried for piracy no longer hangs over them, the Greenpeace activists (28 members and two freelance journalists) detained currently in Murmansk are – at the time of writing – still facing the serious charge of hooliganism. If found guilty, they could be sent to prison for up to seven years (though under Russian law punishment could also be limited to a fine). The 30 were detained following a protest against the Gazprom Arctic drilling platform Prirazlomnaya back in September.
There is no doubt that NGOs have become a significant force within the business world today. Long gone are the days when simply pointing out how certain companies are doing wrong/destroying the planet would suffice. However, like big business, NGOs have to exercise their power responsibly and be held accountable. And when working collaboratively, there needs to be mutual accountability.
At the In Good Company with FSC conference in Denmark recently, Daniel Mittler, political director of Greenpeace International admitted they often target companies with CSR policies. According to Mittler: “We do a lot of research and then we consider if we can actually influence the company… Mostly, our corporate collaborations are the result of a controversy.”
No surprise there. Mittler went on to explain: “Even though we collaborate with a company on one issue, we still run campaigns against them, if we do not agree with them on other issues. It is like a marriage. Even though we disagree with someone, we can still talk about it. And often it is the people we collaborate with, that is the easiest to talk with about other issues.”
The marriage theme continued at the event. Edward Krasny, manager of Sustainable Forestry Programs at Kimberly-Clark has been “married” to Greenpeace for some years. After a period of several years of effort, he noted: “It took time but we managed to build trust and to be open with one another.”
Sudhanshu Sarronwala, executive director, marketing and communications at WWF International, spoke about collaborations with major companies, including The Coca-Cola Company. “Corporations can often be part of the problem and part of the solution. We can include them in the solution or not. But if we do, it can influence an entire sector and have great impact,” said Sarronwala.
“Our principles are that there needs to be a strategic fit with companies that we collaborate with. And it is important that both organizations are independent and have their own opinions and can agree to disagree. There needs to be mutual accountability,” he added.
Since 2007, WWF and Coca-Cola have worked together to conserve and protect fresh water around the world. Theo van Uffelen, marketing director, Marketing the Category Europe at Coca-Cola said: “You don’t always get things right the first time. For me it is not so much about being too close but about preserving integrity in a relationship. That is why you need critical voices and inputs as an organization.”
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