Cover Image
close this bookPartners in Time? Business, NGOs and Sustainable Development (UNRISD, 1999, 85 p.)
close this folderPart 2: Toward civil regulation
close this folderGovernmental Policy Frameworks for Civil Regulation
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentGovernment as Facilitator
View the documentToward Global Private Regulation
View the documentOther Policy Options and Obstacles
View the documentConclusion

Government as Facilitator

There is a range of opinion on the role of government in promoting greater business responsibility for environmental protection in the South. As the role of NGOs in greening business is closely related to the inability of governments to regulate effectively on environmental and social matters, a number of NGOs may be tempted to ignore what government has to offer. The go-it-alone attitude can be found in the new fourth generation NGO strategies, which include a focus on building capacity in the NGO sector for facilitating sustainable development (Korten, 1990). The broad NGO coalition now arguing against an international forest convention for reasons roughly summarized as “it would be a distraction”, is one example of this new thinking in civil society. Many of their partners in industry believe that the role of legislation is a limited one and that market-based mechanisms should prevail. However, a number of managers of companies involved in business-NGO partnerships do not believe that partnerships and voluntary initiatives should replace flexible and efficient legislation.

We believe that governments and inter-governmental bodies should actively promote global social and environmental responsibility in the business sector. To begin with, governments could support the ability of their citizens to promote civil regulation. This could be achieved by strengthening civil society through protecting the ability of people to organize, to speak freely, to protest and to suggest alternatives. Much of the violence against those campaigning for land rights or against particular development projects can be linked to the activities of companies or entrepreneurs. Many governments are equally culpable in the repression of environmental and social activists in the South: the violence of the Nigerian regime against the Ogoni is one example.

The problem appears to be that governments are seeking economic development in very narrow terms. The big and modern is valued more than the small and appropriate. The environment is seen as something to be dominated rather than worked with. Consequently, environmental issues are seen as a barrier to economic progress, a view which can be challenged on many fronts.

A fresh approach would see governments recognizing environmental challenges as opportunities for economic success. Given the growing power of civil society in the North, there are increasing opportunities for Southern governments to lever new funds to help exporters access new markets, and to work in partnership with foreign companies to promote cost-effective resource management. Southern entrepreneurs that recognize the social and environmental demands of Northern markets and adjust their strategies accordingly may be able to achieve greater success. Governments can support such efforts by obtaining additional financial resources for commercial projects that support sustainable development. One example is the partnership between WWF-International and the World Bank, which aims to provide millions of dollars of credit for timber projects that are independently certified as well-managed.

Southern governments could also assist their national companies to access new markets. There is a widely held belief that the Northern “green” consumer is only a niche market. However, green consumerism is not dictating the size of the green market. Instead it is the buying power of corporations, adjusting to the pressures and opportunities of consumer politics, that provides the real opportunity. For example, about 25 per cent of the British and 50 per cent of the Dutch timber markets are not niche markets. To help Cameroonian companies supply these growing markets, the Cameroon Ministry of Forestry recently began working with the European Commission and environmental NGOs.

Furthermore, governments could work in partnership with foreign companies to promote cost-effective resource management. Faced with huge costs to enforce environmental regulations in remote areas, granting natural resource concessions to companies that meet independently monitored environmental and social standards could prove an effective tool for sustainable development. Currently this strategy is being frowned upon by many campaigners and commentators. However, if the standards used were to be developed in consultation with a variety of stakeholders, including local communities, then this strategy might be widely welcomed. New systems of globally applicable, multi-stakeholder negotiated and independently monitored environmental, social or ethical standards for business offer Southern governments new economic opportunities and regulatory mechanisms.