• Understand the role of non-governmental organisation (NGO) activism in corporate social responsibility (CSR).
• Distinguish the characteristics of different types of activist NGOs, their tactics and (aspired) outcomes.
• Develop an overview of interactions between activist NGOs and firms.
• Apply these insights to a case study on activist NGO–business interactions.
Introduction: No Fracking Way!
A decade ago, few people would have heard about fracking, a technical process for the extraction of natural gas from rocky undergrounds that is based on creating fissures in the rock to allow for the extraction of the gas. The imminent depletion of more accessible natural gas supplies has made the technique an attractive supplement to more conventional extraction technologies. Yet, fracking has met with a lot of protest. In many countries, activist NGOs have pointed out the risks associated with the technology, including environmental pollution, occupational health hazards and earthquakes. They organised rallies, started petitions and took legal action; the targets being the companies that (intend to) use fracking technology and the authorities that issue the required licences. Not all protest was successful, but some projects were reconsidered and it surely sparked heated debate. Today, many people know about fracking.
This is just one example of the many issues on the agendas of activist NGOs. Many of their issues are about the conditions and consequences of corporate activities; think of climate change, child labour, workers’ rights, product safety, or pollution. Whether activist NGOs seek to stop contested corporate practices or prefer to collaborate with industries and businesses in order to develop better alternatives, NGO activism has become a lasting element in the discourses and practices of CSR.
Understanding how NGO activism offers opportunities and poses challenges to firms is important to appreciate the broader question of what makes businesses more socially responsible. This chapter discusses NGO activism as a driver of CSR in the following way. We first provide an overview of what activist NGOs are. Next, we explore the various ways by which activist NGOs seek to influence corporate policies, ranging from collaboration and partnerships to contestation and protest. Then, we discuss which firms are more likely to encounter NGO activism, and how they may respond to it.