NGO-business collaborations and the law: sustainability, limitations of the law, and the changing relationship between companies and NGOs

C.J. Bastmeijer, J.M. Verschuuren

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In this chapter, we sketched the possible consequences of the changing relationships between the government, companies, and NGOs in addressing various transboundary sustainability issues for national and international law. The reasons for dialogue and collaboration with NGOs go beyond the issue of `reputation management.¿ We showed that, in particular with regard to transboundary sustainability issues, the limitations of national and international law might further stimulate active relationships between companies and NGOs. Although we think that these limitations are often presented as too absolute, it is clear that the issues are too complex to be solved by government regulation alone. We have shown that the relationships between companies and NGOs may play an important role in respect of all elements of the regulatory chain: norm-setting, implementation, monitoring and enforcement, and dispute resolution. In some cases, NGOs and companies may decide to start partnerships: the influence of NGOs in such partnerships is essential. Partnerships such as FSC and MSC differ from `self-regulation¿ by businesses alone. Research into self-regulation in the field of the environment in the US shows that self-regulation projects should involve public interest groups (Steinzor 1998: 201). Cooperation with NGOs enhances corporate legitimacy. One could argue that, in these cases, there is no self-regulation, because the `self¿ indicates the enterprise while, in the case of multistakeholder approaches, stakeholders together make rules and regulations. Therefore, these collaborations are sometimes described as civil regulation, as opposed to self-regulation (Bendell 2000: 245). In other cases, NGOs may decide to keep a distance in order not to complicate their watchdog role. An interesting question for further research would be whether and how NGOs can keep this watchdog role within partnerships with companies. Let us, by way of concluding, once again turn to the three positions in the governance triangle. From the perspective of governments, they have to find a way to match State law with multistakeholder approaches. In our view, the changing relationships do not so much reduce the role of legislation as change this role. First of all, if the government is convinced of the value of a more intensive relation and collaboration between companies and NGOs, legislation may be used to support this development. Secondly, a role for traditional government regulation may be to codify the norms that have been agreed on by companies and NGOs, for example to prevent free-rider behavior and to ensure government supervision and enforcement if necessary. The ultimate goal of the ideal relationship between national and international law and multistakeholder approaches should be to legitimately, effectively, and efficiently address global sustainability issues, i.e., issues that cannot be resolved by national or international law alone. From the perspective of busines
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCorporate Social Responsibility, Accountability and Governance. Global Perspectives
EditorsIstemi Demirag
Place of PublicationSheffield
PublisherGreenleaf Publishing
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)187471956X
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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