Monday, March 1, 2010

NGO Terrorism

NGOs find companies as soft targets for bullying. Companies, who are incredibly image conscious can easily be bullied – so catch hold of a company, drum up enormous publicity and companies have no choice, but to fall in line with whatever aim that particular NGO is propagating.

Let me state up front – I have no quarrel with many of the objectives that most NGOs are propagating. Some are loony, but most are very laudable. Many NGOs are highly motivated, care genuinely about their cause and altogether want to make the world a better place.

But NGOs have fallen prey to the classic trap of the end justifying the means. The causes that they propagate, relate to public policy. The correct way, in a democracy, is to take these to the voters, convince them of the merits of the policy, get elected to parliament and then pass legislation to that effect. That’s of course inconveniently long and painful and often fails to get voter endorsement. Therefore the quicker, easier (and wrong) way is to bully the soft targets – the corporates.

This post is prompted by the news that Caterpillar finally bowed down to the New York-based pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and announced that its foreign affiliates would suspend sales to Iran. Now American companies are already debarred from operating or selling to Iran, by US law. That’s why you cannot have Windows or MS office in Iran. It also applies to subsidiaries of US based companies. But it does not, and cannot, apply to foreign companies or companies which are not subsidiaries of the US company (much as US Congressmen like to think otherwise, the laws of the United States stop at the boundaries of that country).

UANI has also successfully bullied Siemens, Munich Re and Allianz to "boycott” Iran. There is currently no law in Germany to this effect so UANI has been “naming and shaming” to force companies to do its bidding.

This is a blatantly political issue. We may have our own private views on a nuclear Iran, but its certainly not the lot of companies to take positions on such a matter. This is for governments, parliaments and the United Nations. Companies have no business meddling in political affairs.

Corporates should follow the law of the land. Period. They are not instruments of public policy. The press, and NGOs, have every right to expose companies that violate the law. They have every right to name and shame law breakers. But they have no right to force their own point of view and achieve policy change by bullying companies.

The UANI should really be going to every major government and campaigning them to pass laws to prevent trade with Iran. Sure, that’s fiendishly difficult. But then that’s the route that is legal, ethical and moral. Forcing somebody to do something that he’s not required to do by law is simply immoral.

"The end justifies the means”, is the normal mantra of a terrorist. Do NGOs want to be bracketed with that lot ??