Corporate Responsibility: Report - Partnerships - A Risky Business?

Francois Le Goff

NGOs too often take part in risky corporate partnerships that affect their reputation because their decisions are made on subjective considerations rather than international benchmarks, new research suggests.

The report Partnership - A Risky Business? aims to help NGOs to lower the risks of associating with a partner that does not share their core values by using objective guidance such as the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code and the Global Reporting Initiative criteria.

It was published by ethical marketing agency the Forster Company and human rights consultancy TwentyFifty, based on research conducted between February and May. The authors surveyed 34 NGOs in the top 150 registered charities and 13 businesses in the FTSE 100.

"The use of these codes in developing cross-sector collaborations ensures that there is greater legitimacy and transparency within partnerships," said John Morrison, director of TwentyFifty.

The report found that although 97 per cent of NGOs see building partnerships with a private company as a risk to their reputation, only a fifth of them use existing benchmarks to choose their partner.

It shows that businesses also find partnerships risky - a third of them said they have been criticised for associating with some NGOs. "We were criticised for supporting a group that assisted prostitutes, but we don't regret the decision and are happy to defend it," said one.

One World Trust executive director Simon Burall, who collaborated on the report, said that there are clear differences between the accountability of businesses and NGOs, but that there are similarities, too. "While businesses generally perform better at providing access to information, NGOs have more accountable governance structures." He argued that both sectors are now under pressure to increase their accountability in similar ways, such as engaging better with their stakeholders and evaluating their environmental impacts. This can provide common ground for collaboration.

Amanda Powell-Smith, director of the Forster Company, said: "No individual sector can solve society's issues in areas such as poverty and the environment by working on their own."

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