NGOs and the Private Sector: Glass half-empty or half-full?

How can we create and help
inclusive business, and make business accountable, if there is unequal voting
power between private sector, civil societies, and governments? The challenge
is that civil societies are in the shadow in realizing the  power that the private sector has in
development. NGOs are losing money; their budget is diminishing, and the
government is selling and providing more development projects to the business
sector. Perhaps, we can even argue that CSOs are losing against them. Without
any accountability or equality concerns between NGOs and companies, and with
the immense negative impacts in environmental and social issues, NGOs should be
raising their voice higher.  

image

Cartoon Credit:  WSP(2003): http://www.sswm.info/content/public-private-partnerships-rr

So then the power of people
cannot be eluded from the previous arguments. For a long time we believed that
active citizens have agency over governments, and perhaps one way of making the
private sector accountable is by mobilizing people and consumers in a systematic
way. Private sector has business with people, and there is a role that NGOs canplay
in terms of activating and mobilizing consumers as citizens as part of an accountability
mechanism. Hence, international frameworks such as GRI, OECD Guidelines are basically
working as hard laws to push the Governments, whereas NGOs should be working
inside of the private sector; they need to mobilize people. And beyond
accountability, companies should be required to be transparent, and CSOs need
to make that call, and pressurize companies to become transparent. But perhaps they
are naive in recognizing the potential of the  private sector, and far away to know what the
real power of the private sector is.

Certainly, business organizations can promote
economic development and generate wealth and prosperity in a sustainable manner.
Sustainability can offer great opportunities for companies and is a
prerequisite for their survival. Oxfam showed the public that food and
beverage companies were in power to prevent large-scale land grabs by adopting
a ‘zero tolerance’ for land grab policy throughout their supply chains. The
companies’ substantive reason to act was ultimately about risk management: What
they didn’t know about land rights risks in their supply chain could end up
hurting them later on.

 Hence, there is a need for CSOs to
monitor what companies are doing in sustainability, and to make business
inclusive and accountable. They might not know  exactly how to do it yet, but they are surely
working on that difficult task. Hence, you can ask yourself; in terms of the
role of NGOS and private sector engagement in development, is the glass half
empty or half full?

 An interesting article to read
about the increasing concern of the role of private sector involvement in
development, and in relation to this blog, please check out the following
article: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/may/14/eu-warned-private-sector-involvement-aid-profit-before-poverty.

Lucia Lopez Pineda

Lucia is currently working on Corporate Accountability mechanisms and the Behind the Brands Campaign at Oxfam Novib. She is born and raised in Mexico but has a strong affinity to everything Chinese.

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