Non-Governmental Organizations In Public Relations

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Non-Governmental Organizations in Public Relations

Non-Governmental Organizations in Public Relations


Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are exerting an enormous influence on the policies and practices of government agencies and corporations alike. In this analysis, we will examine the growing power of NGOs, and discuss the strategies and tactics these activist groups use to achieve their objectives. We will then focus our attention on organizations — looking at how corporations can better respond to activist attacks and protect their reputations.

NGOs: A Global Force

Over the last decade or so, there has been a high increase in the number of NGOs. According to The Economist (1999), the number of international NGOs has risen to more than 26,000, from 6,000 in 1990.

The power of some of these groups is truly awe-inspiring. In 1998 a coalition of consumer rights activists and environmentalists banded together to protest the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), an international accord on foreign investment. The coalition, which demanded high standards for how foreign investors should treat workers and protect the environment, launched ardent protests via a network of Internet sites, causing negotiators to abandon the proposed treaty.

Perhaps the most successful NGO campaign of the last decade was that carried out by hundreds of activist groups, in collaboration with the Canadian government, to ban landmines. After years of protests and negotiations, the group successfully banned the development of all landmines, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.

The influence of NGOs extends beyond economics and politics, to the business world. In recent years, Nike has been the target of attacks by special interest groups for its child labour sweatshop scandals, and Monsanto has been criticized for the supposedly harmful effects of its genetically modified foods.

Tools for the Modern Activist

As we have seen, activists today are increasingly powerful at all levels. Determined and resourceful, they are able to quickly and effectively mobilize public opinion. There are many forces at work that help them to advance their agendas.

The Rise of the Internet

The Internet has given rise to a new kind of advocate: the virtual activist. Armed with e-mail lists and other resources, activists are able to communicate quickly with other activists and the corporations and government agencies they are targeting.

As Ronald Bailey (2000) points out, "The Internet has proved a crucial tool in organizing these groups for protest; it has also directly furnished the protestors, once organized, with a potent weapon. E-mail makes it much easier not only to gather activists and disseminate information, but also to bombard a target with protests from around the world."

Take the Seattle demonstrations, for example, which were the result of a coalition of environmental and citizens' groups who had been communicating with each other prior to the demonstrations, signing an anti-WTO protest declaration, which had been set up online by Public Citizen, a consumer-rights group (Economist, 1999). Without e-mail, such a massive mobilization would simply have been impossible.

Campaigns targeting corporations can just as easily be mounted via e-mail. Groups can gather information on labor and other corporate ...
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