Advocacy Groups and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

We have seen how corporations need to embrace CSR as a paradigm if the challenges of the 21st century have to be met. We have also examined the role of the media in championing CSR.

In this article, we look at how Advocacy Groups and Pressure Groups like Greenpeace and Media Lens along with other NGO’s (Non Governmental Organizations) have a prominent role in advocating corporations to follow socially conscious policies and programs. These advocacy groups exist to monitor how well the corporations are adhering to socially conscious norms and the extent to which they are following business practices that do good for society. The way in which Greenpeace champions socially responsible capitalism is a case in point. There are other pressure groups like India Resource Center (formerly Corp Watch) that are actively monitoring the implementation of socially responsible business practices.

The case of the Coca Cola plant in Plachimada, Kerala is instructive for the notable successes that advocacy groups have had in pressurizing the Coca Cola Company to desist from drawing excess groundwater as well as prevent it from desalinating the surrounding areas. This is a much quoted and oft cited case where the advocacy groups and the NGO’s like India Resource Center actively participated in filing lawsuits against Coca Cola for its transgressions. The point here is not to belittle the companies but to highlight the point that advocacy groups have an important role to play in persuading and monitoring companies in their CSR programs.

Any country needs to have watchdogs to keep track of the entities that make up the body polity. In the same way that courts are the custodians of the law and act as a check on the executive, the advocacy groups act like watchdogs of corporate behavior. Hence, any deviation in corporate behavior is actively recorded and published by these groups. Of course, there are many NGO’s that partner with corporations as well and the examples of Janagraha and CRY (Child Relief and You) are the prominent ones. So, there are both sides to the coin where advocacy groups act to prevent corporates from indulging in socially irresponsible behavior as well as those that work with companies in implementing CSR programs.

There are many companies that have their own foundations and trusts that undertake CSR programs. For instance, the Infosys Foundation and the TATA Trust are examples of where the corporation-advocacy relationship is actualized in practice. Many of these foundations and trusts are staffed with people from the social service field and hence they have a mandate of their own. Finally, whether an advocacy group partners with corporations or monitors and fights irresponsible behavior, it is clearly the case that such groups have a vital role to play in upholding the social norms that businesses have to follow. Only when there is a healthy balance between the corporations and the advocacy groups can genuine CSR programs succeed. In conclusion, CSR is something that needs to come from the heart of companies and so they are the final custodians of whether the programs that they undertake are conscientious.


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