EDITORIAL: NGOs shouldn't be underestimated

Have corporates learnt nothing from their repeatedly bruising encounters with NGOs over the past few years? It would seem not, judging by Esso France's apparent decision to sue Greenpeace over the appropriation of its logo in its long-running Stop Esso campaign - a campaign which, it argues, is illegal and harmful to the Esso brand name.

Exxon Mobil, parent company of Esso, also takes a remarkable leap of imagination to claim that the dollars dollars resembles the symbol of Nazi SS - a connection many were unlikely to make until now.

Esso must be unfamiliar with the legal wrangle between 'McLibel' activists Dave Morris and Helen Steel and McDonald's, a case dubbed by Channel 4 News as 'the biggest corporate PR disaster in history' (and named by a PRWeek panel as one of the top 'consumer' campaigns of all time). If it was, it would think twice about playing straight into NGOs' hands.

Already Greenpeace, which has thrived on controversy, is claiming the decision to sue as an admission that the campaign is 'having an effect'.

Anyone who has doubts about the power of NGOs should look no further than the forthcoming Earth Summit, at which groups including Friends of the Earth are calling for a global Geneva Convention-style CSR treaty, forcing firms to adopt best practice and be accountable for their treatment of employees, communities and the environment.

The Bush administration may well scupper any concerted effort to put immediate pressure on the international business community, but NGOs will be heard. Meanwhile, here in the UK, a consortium of NGOs lies behind the recent launch of a Private Member's Bill aiming to force through mandatory social and environmental reporting.

Underestimating NGOs and pressure groups in this day and age is a dangerous strategy.

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