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close this bookPartners in Time? Business, NGOs and Sustainable Development (UNRISD, 1999, 85 p.)
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Open this folder and view contentsPart 1: The changing nature of business-ngo relations
Open this folder and view contentsPart 2: Toward civil regulation
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Partnership is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks about business-NGO relations. Over the past three decades, most relationships between the private sector and civil society have been founded upon conflict.1 In different sectors and geographical contexts, this pattern of business-NGO relations started to change in the early 1990s with the emergence of formal sustainable development partnerships between these long-standing adversaries. Although most of these business-NGO partnerships to date have appeared in the North, many have significant implications for the South - particularly those that promote international business and trading standards. Furthermore, there is some indication that Southern-based companies and NGOs are beginning to collaborate, albeit to a much lesser extent than their Northern counterparts.

1 Alongside business-NGO confrontation, various NGOs have accepted corporate donations for specific projects or causes. While some writers have characterized these activities as “partnerships” (Forrester, 1990; Waddock, 1988), others have tended to view them primarily as corporate sponsorship agreements (Murphy and Bendell, 1997). Recent research suggests that greater attention is being given to the mutual benefits for business and NGOs of these agreements (Waddell, 1998).

This paper is divided into two parts. part 1 offers a global overview of the changing nature of business-NGO relations on sustainable development. Our purpose here is to examine why and how business-NGO relations are changing in the 1990s. We summarize the current spectrum of business-NGO relations and consider how the strategic responses of business and NGOs to sustainable development have evolved over the years. In order to illustrate how business-NGO relations in both the North and South are developing in practice, three case studies are presented on protest and partnership initiatives in the forest products, oil and sporting goods industries. This is followed by review of various theoretical perspectives on business-NGO relations from a broad literature on conflict and partnership. Given that this is an emerging area of study, part 1 of the paper concludes with preliminary thoughts on the preconditions, processes and outcomes of more collaborative relations between business and NGOs.

Part 2 presents a theory to explain the expanding role of NGOs in the promotion of corporate responsibility for sustainable development. We consider the potential for the wider replication of NGO-driven corporate environmentalism in developing countries. This is done by placing the initiatives described above within the context of global processes, including the globalization of business, trade and finance, advances in communications technologies and new governance challenges. This leads us to develop a theory of how corporations are regulated for social and environmental goals in a globalizing economy. We call this civil regulation.