A person holds a poster stating 'report animal and worker abuse'

American politicians like to joke that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.  

Whether or not this is true, our data reveals an intriguing real-life counterpart: if a corporation wants to make an NGO its friend, it should get behind animal rights. 

This is because animal rights groups are three times more likely to praise a corporation than groups from any other cause. 

Of the 350 NGOs that most frequently singled out corporations in their campaigning over the last four years, 50% of all corporate mentions by groups campaigning for animal rights were positive, compared to only 17% for consumer groups, and just 12% for environmental and human rights groups.  

So why do animal rights groups find it easier to praise companies, and why are others so reticent? 


Carrots and Sticks 

To be sure, activist praise of corporates is often just ‘tactical praise’ –intended less to extoll corporations than to embarrass their competitors into changing too. Nonetheless the regularity with which animal rights groups use praise this way suggests that they believe acknowledging firms who accept their agenda really does help to progress their cause. 


Big Bad Business – but it’s where the power is 

As any big company knows, including firms like Unilever or Patagonia that many environmentalists openly admire, getting NGOs to praise them is hard. That big business is the butt of so much campaigning is not because it always does bad things, but because many in progressive circles, which includes most activists, perceive business as fundamentally amoral and caring only about profit. This skews NGO attitudes severely.  

Pragmatic campaigners nonetheless accept that big firms, precisely because of their outsize economic power and market influence, can be a real force for good. For example, they can drive global positive change through reforms of internal practices, and through demanding higher standards in supply chains. This is why activists expend so much effort chivvying companies to acknowledge the importance of the problems they have revealed and extracting promises to change.  

Moral purity 

But neither power nor pragmatism can seem to fully explain why animal rights groups find it easier to endorse companies than NGOs from other causes. One reason may be because many of their issues are morally less black and white. Animal rights groups espouse veganism and the sanctity of animal life, but in reality they are quite pragmatic, fighting for incremental improvements in animal welfare, such as ending battery cages for hens or ensuring access to pasture for cows. Human rights activists by contrast find such incrementalism hard to stomach. They are never going to praise corporations for pledging merely to reduce child labour; only abolition can be accepted. 


What does this mean for my business? 

The obvious message from this for multinational companies is to ensure that consumer and animal rights standards are best in class, and be ready to quickly acknowledge and meaningfully respond to emerging sector-wide controversies. This both minimises the risk of being negatively attacked, and increases the chances of being singled out for praise as a leader. 

Deepening your understanding of activist issues, arguments, and motivations on issues material to your business can also help you understand their behaviour and maximise the return on your engagement. It’s frustrating when your good work sees no recognition from civil society – but an understanding of activism around the issues at hand might show that it’s not surprising.


A bespoke service

SIGWATCH’s analysis of the impact of activism is tailored to your business needs. Our team has experience working with clients across all sectors on the full spectrum of issues – from human rights to biodiversity loss to alternative energy sources.

What our clients say

What our
clients say

“In our experience, SIGWATCH is one of the few sources of ESG data we can absolutely trust to be reliable.”

Our company is based in Japan. Most employees are Japanese and we don’t really know what is happening around the world. SIGWATCH gives us visibility of the global ESG issues and trends we need to have on our radar.

With SIGWATCH, we’re able to absorb NGO data in an awesome way that
simply wouldn’t be possible otherwise. We can hear the NGOs’ voice, to better
strategize and get ahead of trending issues.

With social listening, we’re limited to knowing what people are saying only about OECD. With SIGWATCH, we see not only what is being said about us, but also what is being said about everyone else.

A lot is said and written about sustainability and ESG every day but no one,
apart from SIGWATCH, provides the big picture, SIGWATCH offers a comprehensive overview of what’s happening in the corporate sustainability
world rather than just a narrow snapshot.

“SIGWATCH is a good source to show that NGOs are watching us and watching our clients, and we definitely need to be aware of the issues they are bringing up.”