An uncomfortable relationship

NGOs, trade associations, and the development of industry self-regulation

Authored by: Jonathan Doh , Tazeeb Rajwani , Thomas C. Lawton

Routledge Handbook of NGOs and International Relations

Print publication date:  April  2019
Online publication date:  April  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138285507
eBook ISBN: 9781315268927
Adobe ISBN:


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Previous chapters acknowledged the increased prominence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the global economy. In this chapter, we discuss how a specific form of NGO – the trade or industry association – emerged as an actor in international relations, representing often diverse interests in specific contexts (Rajwani, Lawton, and Phillips, 2015). Recent studies have highlighted how collective action through trade associations impacts business and society more broadly, through their influence on public policy, industry structure, and the nature of competition (Lawton, Rajwani, and Minto, 2017). The consequent interactions between trade associations and other forms of NGOs can be conflictual, collaborative, or both. One mechanism – and outcome – of these interactions is the emergence of private regulatory agreements: standards, codes, and other arrangements through which industry and trade association participants commit to social, environmental, and other goals, often at the urging of and with the support of non-business NGOs. For instance, NGOs like Friends of the Earth and Oxfam became trade association partners to align interests in support of or against specific government policies, standards, legislation, and positions. Despite these interactions and influences, with non-business NGOs serving as agents for sharing information with industry (Rajwani et al., 2015), researchers have devoted little attention to understanding their relevance and how they relate to the development of private self-regulation.

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