Global markets and global civil society: Influence & Legitimacy”
Natalie Züfle IPE
Task: Transnational civil society organizations can have a massive influence on economic decisions and regulatory measures concerning market governance. They raise and manage important funds and have organizational structures that can be compared to transnational companies. Comparable to transnational companies, decisions of international non-governmental organizations are not based on democratic elections. Keeping this in mind, please write an essay (500 words) with the title “Global Markets & Global Civil Society: Influence & Legitimacy”.
It was in the 1990s that influence and international power of civil society have gained new dimensions – with notable attention on increasing numbers of supporters, funds as well as new issues put on the international agenda. Globalization’s technical revolution in modern communication technology (internet and mobile phones) has pushed these developments, and facilitated enormously the organized mobilization of the public (see Anheier, Glasius and Kaldor 2004, p. 6).
But there are always the two sides of the coin. On the one hand, many associations, initiatives, or NGOs play a powerful role in international economic affairs. Heightening the public’s awareness through the tactics of “naming and shaming” (Chandhoke, 2004, p. 51), they significantly influence corporate decisions.
Remember the Clean Clothes Campaign: in 1996, several transnational human rights organizations (among others Global exchange and United Students Against Sweatshops), jointly organized an adroit global campaign to pressure Nike to end the inhumane working conditions of its factory employees (among them children) in developing countries. Resulting from discredits in reputation, boycott calls and critical news coverage, the company was finally forced to rethink its business strategies (see Chandhoke 2004, p. 40, Global Exchange 2008 and United Students against Sweatshops 2008).
Another noteworthy example of successful activism was the Shell boycott in 1995. Greenpeace began to organize demonstrations and boycotts against this corporation intending to sink the old oil platform Brent Spar in the North Sea. When consumers concertedly refused to buy Shell’s gasoline, and thus forcing down sales volumes, the firm had to turn in. Greenpeace’s pressure even reached the political level, prompting Shell to sign the UN’s human rights declaration (see BBC 2008).
In short, civil society helps to improve transparency by creating a well informed citizenry, and to a certain extent also the accountability of global players. But such remarkable authority brings also responsibility, which in the end affects the degree of legitimacy. Often the question arises if the involved organizations meet the democratic rules and standards which they demand from their “targets” by themselves. As a rule, no one elects or appoints the internal leaders in a democratic fashion (Risse 2004, p.6f.).
Nevertheless, similarly to big companies being accountable to their shareholders, international organizations are accountable to their members, especially those who fund them (Woods 2002, p. 27). This in turn raises another critical note – that it is largely Western industrialized countries, and then, often powerful and rich people (like Bill Gates or George Soros) that sponsor big amounts, and therefore it might be guessed that they dictate also the topics which are dealt with (Risse 2004, p. 12, Chandhoke, 2004, p. 49).
Number of NGO's in Consultative Status with the council
(Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2008)
Notwithstanding, their influence (and thus legitimacy) depends by and large on the quality of the outcomes, i.e. if they do their job well or not (see Woods 2002, p. 34). If not – and this will be watched by the monitoring force of the international press (or institutions like NGOwatch.org) – members will hold them responsible for bad decisions and stop funding. If so, legitimacy can be sustained.
Therefore, if civil society wants to maintain its level of legitimacy, and thus to retain influence, it will have to work transparent and accountable, which means to adhere to its own postulated requirements. Then it will readily get unanimous and undisputable support from the public in order to reach its venerable goals.