NGOs and Ethics in Today’s Corporate World

Posted on April 20, 2012 in Business and Economy

By Vishakh Unnikrishnan:

How easy is it to manipulate someone in this corporate world we live in? That depends on the information that we are provided with from the media, friends, acquaintances etc. Even information can be manipulated to fiddle around with the mind-set of people. In the fast-paced life we live in, we barely have time to do our research on the information that we receive, and in such scenario information remains information and not ‘knowledge’.

Very rarely do we know about the clandestine methodologies that corporates use to manipulate the minds of the public. But in this capitalist world that we live in, such approach is almost inevitable for corporates. Almost every other corporation tries to give the impression that their products are more trustworthy, durable than others, which may or may not be true. This is achieved through intense marketing and business tactics. None of this can be termed as ‘unethical’ though because after all they are corporates, and it is the duty of the customer to research through external means about a product before purchase.

Competition is now a metonymy for ‘war’ in the capitalist environment that we thrive in, and as the saying goes- everything is fair whilst a war. NGO’s around the country and the world, deploy almost the same tactics to attract customers. Many host high-profile parties for celebrities and politicians and spread the message that all the ‘funding’s’ are to be spent for ‘relief and rescue measures’ wherever required.

But what if this capitalist artifice is taken to a whole new level? What if an organization gives the impression of ‘doing good’ for the society or the environment, without actually doing anything? Can that be called ethical? Corporate Social Responsibility is probably the biggest venture that organisations undertake to give the impression that consumer’s money is spent on ‘ethical’ grounds. The idea of philanthropy and altruism has, as and until now, been successful enough to make people donate enough to sustain hundreds of NGOs and corporates that employ thousands to spread the ‘idea’ of altruism and not the actual thing. In recent years, many large corporations have increased their corporate social responsibility departments in an attempt to pre-empt NGO campaigns against certain corporate practices. As the logic goes, if corporations work with NGOs, NGOs will not work against corporations.

Non-profit organisations in India (a) exist independently of the state; (b) are self-governed by a board of trustees or ‘managing committee’/ governing council, comprising individuals who generally serve in a fiduciary capacity; (c) produce benefits for others, generally outside the membership of the organisation; and (d), are ‘non-profit-making’, in as much as they are prohibited from distributing a monetary residual to their own members. Now all NGOs need not be non-profit organizations, but is it ethical for them to market themselves as one? More so, should it even be considered legal? Can it be considered legal to give an impression that monetary donations are ‘not distributed to their own members’ to the public by having the pseudonym ‘not-for-profit’ organization. Under section 25 of the Income tax act ‘not-for-profit organizations involved in relief work and in the distribution of relief supplies to the needy are 100% exempt from Indian customs duty on the import of items such as food, medicine, clothing and blankets. Other exemptions may also be available.’ NGOs don’t even have to worry about the quality of their products; they just have to worry about the ‘quality’ of marketing. With all such exemptions and hefty amount of donations from corporates and high-class individuals, can NGOs be regarded as different from corporates? Or should they be considered even ‘worse’?

“It does not matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.”
— Dr. Patrick Moore, President of Greenpeace Canada 1981