It’s impossible for a small group of activists to change what a big company does... right? Wrong. There are lots of real life examples where well-organised groups have changed policies and practices that affect issues such as working conditions or the environment. Sometimes they’ve been so successful that they’ve convinced the company to give them financial support.
Find out about corporate ethics
These days, many big companies want to be seen as acting ethically and in the interests of the wider community. Sometimes this is called “corporate social responsibility" and it can cover the social and environmental impact of their business practices.
Take a look at the websites from many big companies and they’ll often have whole sections devoted to their community activities and their philosophy on their social responsibility. This is useful information to know when you’re asking them to change the way they do their business.
Give peace a chance
Before you start a public campaign against a business, you need to make an effort to contact them and work through the issues. You could make contact by:
- Writing a letter
- Sending an email.
Outline your case and how they could change their policies or practices to deal with the issue. Do your research so you know what you’re talking about. Try to stick to facts rather than emotional responses.
If you bypass this first contact, you’re setting up a potentially bad relationship with the company, which makes it harder to negotiate later.
Find the right person
For maximum impact, you need to pick a single person as your target. It could be the CEO, the Chairperson of the Board or the person who looks after public relations. But make sure it’s someone who deals with the area of policy or practice that you’re trying to change. If you’re not specific, there’s a good chance that you’ll get an answer from someone who doesn’t know much about the issue, or you won’t get a response at all.
Check your contact details
Double check that you’ve got the right name, job title and address. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to be accurate. Many companies use their websites to publish information about their corporate structure. You could also ring the general enquiries line and ask some questions about who looks after which division. Be prepared to stay on the line if you’re transferred around several areas.
Set up the meeting
What if the company doesn’t respond the way you’d hoped? Next, you could try setting up a meeting with someone with influence in the area of your cause. It might not be your first contact, but make sure they have some decision-making powers.
When you call to make a time, be polite and friendly. Make sure you’re clear about the purpose of the meeting. Practise what you’re going to say before you pick up the phone and write down some of the key points to cover. When the meeting is organised, ask how much time you’ll have and who’ll be in the room. Ring to confirm the day before the meeting is scheduled.
Gather some support
Don’t go alone to the meeting. If possible, take along another group member or someone else with direct experience of the issue. For example, if you are trying to change the working conditions of a clothing manufacturer, bring one of their potential buyers. If you are at school, take your teacher or the principal. Let the company know in advance who is coming to the meeting.
Keep your cool
When the meeting time arrives:
- Get there early (plan your transport in advance so you’re not caught out by a late train).
- Bring along relevant materials (for example articles, reports, campaign posters).
- Explain your cause or campaign clearly, simply and thoroughly.
- Suggest practical ways they can help
- Stay calm and assertive.
- Avoid becoming flustered or angry.
Wait for the response
After the meeting, give them reasonable time to respond. Suggest a week or two depending on the campaign. At this point, they may or may not agree to help you or make a change. You may not get everything you asked for, but if there’s some cooperation it’s a good start.
Make the next move
If your company contact doesn’t agree to help, let them know that your next step is to publicise their position. Companies generally hate negative publicity and it’s possible that they may reconsider their approach to avoid bad press.
Think about how you’ll get the message out to the public. For example:
- Flyers and posters (Visit Promote your event)
- Protests (Visit Join or organise a protest)
- Letters to the Editor (Visit How to write a letter to the editor)
- Media releases, newspaper articles and advertisements (Visit Write a media release)
- Public speeches (Visit Speak in public)
- Radio or television appearances (Visit Talk on radio or TV)
Check your facts
It’s important not to personally slander anyone or get yourself in legal trouble. So make sure that when you send out any negative publicity you’ve checked your facts. Otherwise you and your group could find yourselves in major strife. Check with Legal Aid, the police, your university union, your school or other activist groups about what will land you in legal trouble before you even think about doing anything risky.
Hopefully the burst of publicity will be effective and the negotiations will open again. They’re not going to completely turn around their position, so both sides are going to have to keep talking about how to reach an agreement.
At some point, you need to assess what’s happened. Either you’re happy about the changes that have been made as a result of your campaign, or you need to regroup and think of another approach.
Just because you may have lost the fight, doesn’t mean that you’ve lost the battle. You probably succeeded in raising public awareness and maybe even changed the minds of some people within the company. You may have started some small changes that will have big impacts in years to come.
If you have had success, discuss the best way to publicise this with your company contact. Both sides will need to be happy about the way the story is being told before you agree to any joint interviews, photographs or other publicity.
Wikipedia - List of Multinational Organisations - For a list of multinational corporations.
An example of lobbying to change business practices:
Adidas gives in to pressure from lobby groups to stop using mulesed wool - The sportswear clothing company Adidas joins the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign to stop the practice of sheep mulesing.