Not just about the money: corporatization is weakening activism and empowering big business

by Genevieve LeBaron and Peter Dauvergne


Barbie, it’s over. Credit: All rights reserved.

At the beginning of the 1970s Greenpeace was a motley band of peaceniks and environmentalists living in our home province of British Columbia in Canada. Now the Amsterdam headquarters of Greenpeace manages a multimillion-dollar brand, with scores of branches worldwide, thousands of employees, and millions of financial supporters.

The history of Greenpeace is one of courage and daring defiance, and the organization has long protested both unsustainable production and wasteful consumption. But like every multinational NGO, Greenpeace is under great pressure to achieve short-term results, which are now so essential for raising the money required to pay a burgeoning staff and finance projects.

In 2011 one of Greenpeace`s big ‘victories’ was convincing Barbie-doll manufacturer Mattel to remove illegal rainforest wood from its cardboard-box packaging. This campaign certainly has its merits, and Greenpeace may think of it as a win.

But it`s not. Praising Mattel and calling this a victory may enhance public trust in the Greenpeace brand, but it also legitimizes the trade and consumption that Greenpeace has long opposed, and which lie at the root of unsustainable patterns of growth and development.

All NGOs want to gain the public`s trust, and in recent years they have done well on that score. The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer ranked NGOs as the world’s most trusted institution – the seventh year in a row that they have come out on top of business, media, and governments.

Trusted brands like Amnesty International and WWF are now going toe-to-toe with Coke, McDonald’s, and Nike. As Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, John Quelch, and Bernard Simonin point out, over the past decade both Amnesty International and WWF have remained among Europe’s top five most trusted brands, with Amnesty at number 1 in 2004, beating out Microsoft and Michelin. That year Amnesty ranked 13th in the United States, just behind corporate brands such as UPS, Proctor & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson.

The brand value of some NGOs even rivals that of iconic businesses. In 2001Interbrand already estimated that the brand value of Habitat for Humanity was US$1.8 billion – which at that time put it on a par with Starbucks.

In the words of former Greenpeace communications director Jonathan Wootliff and PR executive Christopher Deri, NGOs have become “The New Super Brands.” Understandably, corporations are eager to partner with them. Doing so costs them relatively little, yet the payback can be substantial. It enhances their reputation for social responsibility, deflects their critics, and helps to advertise their products.

Many NGOs are just as keen to partner with multinational corporations. Some merely want more money to pay staff and run bigger projects. But most enter the game of partnering in order to access corporate boardrooms. “We could spend 50 years lobbying 75 national governments,” the former president of WWF Canada remarked to journalist Simon Houpt in 2011, “or these folks at Coke could make a decision … and the whole global supply chain changes overnight. And that in a nutshell is why we’re in a partnership.”

However, gaining access to the boardroom and taking corporate money comes with a price. As we explore in our new book Protest Inc., activist and advocacy organizations have increasingly come to look and act an awful lot like multinational corporations.

Just like corporations, high-powered lawyers and marketing consultants now serve and defend the leading brands of NGOs. In 2000, WWF sued the World Wrestling Federation for using the acronym ‘WWF,’ forcing the Federation tochange its name. Amnesty hired GlobeScan – a marketing firm whose clients include Barrick Gold, BP, Chevron, Shell, and Goldman Sachs – “to build a revitalized brand identity” for the “next 50 years.”

Today’s multinational NGOs own investments, stocks, and real estate worth millions of dollars. The largest of them employ thousands of workers and have branches across the world. By the time WWF turned 50 in 2011, it was paying some 5,000 staff across more than a hundred countries. Annual budgets reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars – and each year expenses and revenues seem to rise. Amnesty International’s 2010 global income exceeded US$260 million. That year the revenue of Save the Children USA was more than US$540 million; even the small American branch of Greenpeace had a budget of nearly US$28 million.

Advertising and education budgets alone can rival the GDP of a small country. Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s annual fundraising and public education costs, for instance, exceed US$200 million – higher in 2011 than the GDP of theMarshall Islands or Kiribati. And like corporations, presidents and CEOs run most of these nonprofit organizations through corporate-style hierarchies and top-down management.

In a move that would have been unthinkable thirty years ago, NGOs now work alongside energy multinationals like Chevron and ExxonMobil, and brand companies like Apple and Nestlé. Some groups still refuse corporate money. But for many NGOs, partnerships are becoming an indispensable way of supporting their programs and staffing. WWF’s partnership with Coca-Cola, for instance, was worth around US$20 million in 2010.

‘Small’ isn’t necessarily ‘beautiful’ and ‘big’ isn’t always ‘bad,’ but these trends raise crucial issues about the future of global citizen action. How did ‘saving the world’ become big business?

NGOs “are winning,” Wootliff and Deri argue, because “they speak directly to consumers, appealing to emotions through simple and concise themes.” Some activists do lament the marketing of causes to tap consumers for donations. And some like Karen Strickler decry the “fog of big money” that is drifting over NGO executives and their boards.

We too worry about the corporatization of NGOs and their work. It’s not questions of money alone that make us uneasy, although some top salaries in the larger NGOs are certainly out of hand.

What’s more disturbing is how corporatization is transforming what activists and NGOs now think is ‘realistic’ and ‘possible’ to change in the world.

Increasingly, NGOs are dividing advocacy into projects with concrete and easily-measurable outcomes in order to demonstrate ‘returns on donations’. Needing to pay salaries, rent and electricity bills, NGOs have centralized their management structures and moved away from tactics that might threaten firms or governments or donors.

Advocacy for far-reaching change in world politics is increasingly off the table: radically-reorienting international organizations, redistributing global income, reining in multinational corporations beyond voluntary codes of conduct, reversing unfair terms-of-trade, protecting workers, and pushing for a different economic order that is based around sharing and an end to growth.

One example of an NGO that has drifted towards this kind of moderation is the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Since starting out in 1969, the IFAW has moved away from its founding goal of fighting to stop Canada’s seal pup hunt, and towards a focus on scientific and educational campaigns for dogs, cats and other animals.

Now, ‘successes’ include saving individual animals, by providing, for example, veterinary care in developing countries. We are not suggesting that this is trivial work. But it does indicate how far the IFAW has wandered from its goal of ending Canada’s commercial seal hunt, which, since resuming in the mid-1990s after shutting down, has in some years been even larger than it was when the IFAW originally got going.

This shift in what the IFAW declares a ‘success’ or Greenpeace a ‘victory’ is a symptom of a general tapering of ambition. NGOs are channeling more energy and resources into projects and away from campaigns for deep, systemic change. And their goals increasingly reinforce the social, economic and political systems they say they want to transform.

In the words of Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci, corporatization is narrowing “the limits of the possible”. It is also taking us away from the empowering social relations that feminists, environmentalists, and human rights advocates have long strived for.

Narrow thinking, bureaucratic structures, and the overriding priority of fundraising lead NGOs to treat people as donors and consumers, rather than to empower them to struggle for social justice. The pursuit of money, asMichael Edwards writes in Transformation, can “turn helping others into another form of domination”.

Corporatization has major consequences, not only for NGO-style activism but also for protest movements, and even for dissent more broadly. The belief that voluntary action by business can decrease inequality, advance human rights, and slow environmental destruction is strengthening. And by legitimatizing corporate power in world politics, these emerging trends are marginalizing campaigns for system-wide change.

The corporatization of activism is occurring against a backdrop of incentives and pressures to conform with the existing global order, including a worldwide security crackdown on direct action, protest and dissent; far-reaching changes in the nature of social life, including the strengthening of consumerism; and the growing power of corporations to set their own rules.

In this context, the decision by a well-intentioned and highly-trusted NGO to partner with business is understandable, especially as this can increase its ability to nudge a company to improve at least some of its worst practices.

No wonder NGOs are the world’s most trusted institution. As governments attack and defund NGOs which are more critical, mainstream groups are reassuring governments with pragmatic goals, comforting consumers with feel-good labeling and cause marketing, and partnering with corporations.

Corporatized activism is shoring up big business, sustaining capitalist states, and building support for a lightly-reformed status-quo. It threatens no one in power. But it weakens grassroots activism and poses a major threat to those who are struggling to transform the world.

From One Feminist Wave to the Next: Laura Emma Marshall Jamieson (1882-1964)

CCFCCF Gathering Gabriola Island, 1940s?, Laura Jamieson 5th from the right back row. Thanks to Marion Lea Jamieson for access to this photo.


The Suffrage and the Second Wave Women’s Movements have often been regarded as distinct. In fact, feminism never disappeared. Laura Marshall Jamieson, who joined BC’s Political Equality League before World War One and the Women’s Committee of the New Democratic Party a half a century later, exemplifies its persistence.

An Ontario farm girl, Laura Marshall became a schoolteacher to fund a BA in philosophy from the University of Toronto. The 1908 yearbook described her as “one of the few possessing sufficient energy and skill to play a leading part in every activity open to women students.”  Bluestocking credentials were augmented by Marshall’s enthusiasm for the Alpine Club of Canada, a passionate group identified as a magnet for independent-minded New Women (see Reichwein and Fox). Like many progressive people, the new graduate took a job with the Young Women’s Christian Association. As its Secretary for Western Ontario, she remembered,

I had never looked at my own life and my duties and responsibilities like this before. I had gone to church and taught Sunday School class and sang in the church choir and thought I had done well. But a whole new set of social duties confronted me. (qted Walsh, 126)

In 1911, however, she married lawyer John Stewart Jamieson, settled in Burnaby, BC, and had three children in quick succession, including a son who died in infancy.

With John’s unexpected death in 1926, Laura succeeded him in a juvenile court judgeship, although the honour of becoming BC’s first female magistrate had gone to Helen Gregory MacGill (1864-1947) in 1917. The appointment recognized a well-known activist. Laura had already presided over Vancouver Local Council of Women campaigns for dower and equal guardianship rights and, with John, lectured for the BC Political Equality League. She had helped host the 1916 Vancouver visit of the British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and led Burnaby’s Woman’s Forum in feminist educational outreach. She trusted that women suffrage would “remove the causes of distress instead of merely relieving that distress temporarily” (qted Walsh, 128).

After the war, Laura moved comfortably in progressive circles.  In 1920, she joined James Shaver Woodsworth, later leader of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), in addressing UBC students on “the aims of socialism and the work of the Federated Labor party.”[1]  Her loyalty to broad alliances thrived with commitments to the Parent-Teachers’ Association, the University Women’s Club, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and the League of Nations’ Society. Like hours in Burnaby’s Juvenile Court, such involvement increased her awareness of economic distress, affirmed internationalism, and strengthened ties to key feminist and later CCF stalwarts.

The first decade after the enfranchisement of BC’s white women in 1917 brought women impressive legislative gains. Laura credited much early success to the independent(-minded) Liberal Mary Ellen Smith, the province’s first female legislator. Later scholars have also pointed to “nation-building” discourses that aimed to strengthen the ‘white race’ (Clarkson, 326-357). Laura remembered post-suffrage politics as exhilarating: “I think that working for the suffrage, and using ingenious methods of educating the public gave us a zest and impetus that carried over into the period when we able to get good legislation passed, and we felt that we should get as much passed as possible.”[2] With Smith’s 1928 defeat, prospects dampened sharply.

The Great Depression intensified sensitivity to injustice. Jamieson was appalled by pervasive hostility to female wage-earners and her attention turned as well to the male unemployed.  As a member of the CCF Women’s Council and Vancouver’s Mothers’ Council, she advocated aid for the refugees from federal work camps assembled in Vancouver to begin their ‘March on Ottawa’ in 1935 (Howard).  The interwar years also kept international concerns to the fore as she challenged narrow nationalism and linked conflict and economic disadvantage.  She recognized the consequences of her politics: “the fact that I am known in Vancouver as a Radical, and even to many as a ‘dangerous woman,’ mitigates against popularity” (qted Crowley, 65-66). In 1939, Jamieson endorsed CCF support of the war but she scrutinized its effect on women and racial minorities.

Jamieson’s engagement in reform causes drew censure from the BC Liberal Government and she resigned her judgeship in 1938. A year later, she won a Vancouver by-election for the CCF. In 1941 she was returned, alongside two other CCF women (Grace MacInnis and Dorothy Steeves), for the Official Opposition. In 1941, she helped found the Vancouver Women’s School for Citizenship. Such efforts could not counter right-wing fear-mongering and internal CCF divisions. In 1945, she met electoral defeat.

In 1948 Jamieson’s passion for local improvement led to a two-year term as a Vancouver City Councilor, only the second woman in that office. There she advocated an expanded municipal franchise, housing reform, and public ownership of utilities. In 1952, the provincial legislature came calling again and she topped Vancouver Centre polls. The new Social Credit Party managed, however, to hammer out a minority. The 1953 general election made it a majority and the feminist veteran, now over 70, ran well but unsuccessfully. She did not again hold political office.

As a legislator, Laura Jamieson’s causes were familiar progressive preoccupations, signaled by her inclusion on the House Standing Committee on Social Welfare. In 1941, she announced that she “would devote her energies particularly to the help of women industrial workers” (qted Walsh, 132). She endorsed day nurseries as a legitimate claim and with armistice in sight rejected efforts to force women out of good jobs and proposed converting war to peacetime production (Jamieson). The province’s habitual racism also drew her ire as her article, “Where White and Brown Men Meet” in the Canadian Forum in 1941, and her service for the Vancouver Consultative Council for Co-operation in Wartime Problems of Canadian Citizenship, which opposed internment of Japanese Canadians, demonstrated. Her column, the “World at a Glance” in the BC Federationist advocated global-mindedness and the United Nations, causes dear to progressive women’s groups.

By the time she last held office, Laura Jamieson was a CCF matriarch.  Even as she named herself both a socialist and a feminist, she above all sought broad progressive coalitions to secure social improvement. In the mainstream of her party, she joined those who rejected any common front with Communists, endorsed social democracy, and put their weight behind a politics of moderation. Loyalties groomed in community-based feminist groups did not readily align with male-dominated ideological purists.

The transformation of the CCF into the NDP in 1961, which Jamieson supported, and the emergence of its Women’s Committee represented the last stage in her political life. Although the committee did not long survive, the formation of the Voice of Women in 1960 and the Vancouver Women’s Caucus in 1968 signaled the feminist revival for which she waited.  Her own life, however, testified to feminism’s resilience in individual hearts and actions from the time of the suffragists to the beginnings of the Second Wave.





Clarkson, Christopher A. “Remoralizing Families? Family Regulation and State Formation in British Columbia, 1862-1940”, PhD thesis, University of Ottawa, 2002.

Crowley, Terrence, Agnes Macphail and the Politics of Equality (Toronto: James Lorimer & Co., 1990).

Howard, Irene, “The Mothers’ Council of Vancouver: Holding the Fort for the Unemployed, 1935-1938,” BC Studies nos. 69-70 (Spring-Summer 1986): 249-87

Jamieson, Laura, Women Dry Those Tears (Vancouver: CCF Women’s Council of BC, 1945).

Reichwein, PearlAnn and K. Fox, “Margaret Fleming and the Alpine Club of Canada: A Woman’s Place in Mountain Leisure and Literature, 1932-1952.”  Journal of Canadian Studies (Fall 2001): 35-60.

Strong-Boag, Veronica, “Taking Stock of Suffragists: Personal Reflections on Feminist Appraisals, ” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association NS, 21:2 (2011): 76-89.

Walsh, Susan, Equality, Emancipation, and a More Just World: Leading Women in the British Columbia Cooperative Commonwealth Federation,” MA thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1983.



[1] “Come on Reds,” The Ubyssey (2 Dec. 1920): 3.

[2] BC Archives, Laura Jamieson Fonds MS-0311, v. 1, file 9, typescript, no title, 1st line “What were the laws like a hundred years ago in B.C.?”, p. 4.

Finding Balance: Enabling women to protect themselves or the perpetuation of rape myths and sexualized violence.

By Grace Lore & Kelsey Wrightson

UBC          With four reported stranger attacks at the University of British Columbia from Spring to Fall 2013, sexual assault has been in the spot light. The University and RCMP responded with a series of public messages, signage warnings, and safety campaigns., yet the bulk of these responses reproduced gender bias.  Specifically, solutions overwhelmingly targeted women’s behavior and attitudes, rather than those of the perpetrators.  The result supplies yet one more example of the “victim blaming” that so often pervades public culture.

Press releases and email alerts to students from the RCMP, the managing director of Student Development Services, the Vice-President Students, and the University President told women not to walk alone at night, don’t let your friends walk alone, and to stay “extra vigilant”.  Such instructions were followed by the offer of pink whistles for help in case of attack.   While they may offer some protection in a culture rife with sexualized violence, such “solutions” miss the point.  It is perpetrators that constitute the ‘problem’ not women.

Unfortunately, targeting the wrong sex is the predominant cultural response to sexualized violence. Resilient rape myths “that serve to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women” (Lonsway and Fitzgerald) effectively limit women’s freedom.  Commonplace admonitions about intemperance and dress invoke an essentially anti-feminist politics of female containment. Very typically, in a 15 November 2013 National Post article, Jonathan Kay encouraged women “to fight date rape by staying sober,” bluntly arguing that “being the drunkest woman on girls’ night out is akin to being the slowest gazelle on the savannah”.  In January 2011, a police officer at the University of Toronto evoked similar prejudices in warning students “not to dress like sluts” if they wanted to avoid rape, an observation that set off world-wide “slut walks”.  The common petitions for women watch their drinks, walk in pairs, and stay aware of their surroundings are obvious reflections of the continued failure to uphold women’s right to be free from violence.

Responses to assaults contribute to compromising women’s civil rights.  In an interview with a Vancouver radio station following the four UBC attacks, Brent Turvey, an Alaskan forensic scientist and criminal profiler, undermined survivors’ claims, suggesting they “didn’t sound like real behavior” because “rapists don’t get their victims by the hips”.  This statement, which discounts the fact that rapists grab their victims in all sorts of ways, in effect constitutes a “second assault” arising out of “social attitudes and nors about rape” (Ulman).  This recurring pattern of ready disbelief  encourages post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following assaults (Ullman and Filipas) and self-blaming by women (Kelly and Torres).  Given the complex physical and psychological toll, it is little wonder that lower rates of reporting  are found (Heath, Lynch, Fritch, and Wong).  Finally, the focus on the stranger attacks ignores the extent of the problem and invokes a standard error.  Most assailants are known to their victims, many assaults occur in private residences, and only a minority are reported (see  Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics).  In other words, preoccupation with a campus ‘hooded’ stranger detracts from what is really going on. Despite its president’s hopes, UBC is unlikely to be a cultural anomaly.

Rape myths do more than damage individual survivors. They undermine gender equality generally. In a 1994 UBC student survey, sociologist Currie found that “large percentages of women” were avoiding  “going alone to areas of campus which Faculty and Administrators might imagine as being important to students’ freedom of mobility” including libraries during the evening (26%), major parking lots (between 31% and 55%) and the Student Union Building (17%).    Such fears affect student involvement and equity in campus life (Janz and Pyke).

A CKNW reporter asked one of us “if you are at a beach and there is a  shark in the water, don’t you want someone to warn you?”  The answer, of course, is yes.  Campus women need information and tools.  But the metaphor is poor: we are talking about public spaces where women have the right to be present and safe, not a beach where nature offers risks for all. Nor is a shark the equivalent of a human assailant. The latter thrives in a sexist culture where rape myths abound and violence against women is too often denied or justified. The infamous chant of UBC’s undergraduate business students, both men and young women, in September 2013, which encouraged the sexual assault of underage girls, highlighted that larger culture of male entitlement. While this particular moment was broadly condemned, the chant had existed under the public/institutional radar for decades.  That disregard invokes the same spirit that allowed the province’s (and indeed the nation’s) ‘missing and murdered women’, many of whom are Indigenous, to be just as routinely ignored.

Today, the University, the RCMP, the community, and the media need to do their homework:  consult the extensive research on violence against women, some of it produced by UBC scholars (i.e. Currie). They would find ample evidence to reconsider solutions that target women rather than male violence and cultural entitlement. Such a reorientation has proven value.  The Vancouver Police Department’s  “Don’t be that Guy” campaign has recently targeted men’s behavior. In the process, it has debunked myths.  In the first year of the city campaign (2011), the rate of (reported) sexual assaults dropped by 10% (Matas). Nor are the police alone in updating their response. A partnership between the Ending Violence Association of BC and the BC Lions Football Club now calls upon men to ‘be more than a bystander’  and to create ‘positive social change’ ( Its posters put men at the centre of solutions.

Given the leadership of the VPD and the Lions, we ask why UBC has been a laggard? Despite its aspirations to world ranking in scholarship, it sidestepped well documented strategies that “shift accountability to the offenders and away from the victims” (Vancouver Police Department). For an institution that regularly claims to be ‘second to none’, such dereliction is nothing less than ‘second rate’.


Further Reading

Anderssen, Erin. (February 17, 2011). Toronto police officer offers inappropriate safety tip.  The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November, 2013 from

Brennan, S. & Taylor-Butts, Andrea. (2008). Sexual Assault in Canada 2004 and 2007.  Statistics Canada: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series. 

Burt, M (1980). Cultural myths and support of rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38:2, 217-230.

The Canadian Press.  (October 30th, 2013). UBC president offers update on “one of the safest campuses”. Retrieved November, 2013 from

Currie, D. (1994). Women’s safety on campus: Challenging the university as gendered space. Humanity & Society, 18(3), 24-48.

Janz, T., & Pyke, S. (2000). A scale to assess student perceptions of academic climates. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 3(1), 89-122.

Kelly, B. T. & Torres, A. (2006). Campus safety: perceptions and exerpiences of women students.  Journal of College Student Development, 47:1, 20-36.

Heath, N., Lynch, S., Fritch, A., Wong, M. (YEAR). Rape myth acceptance impacts the report of rape to the police: A study of incarcerated women.  Violence Against Women, 19(9) 1065–1078

Lonsway, K. A. & Fitzergald.  (1994). Rape Myths in Review.  Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18:2, 133-174.   

Matas, R. (January 21, 2012). ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ ad campaign cuts Vancouver sex assaults by 10 per cent in 2011.  The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November, 2013 from

Sexual Assault Support Centre. (n.d.) Myths.  Retrieved November, 2013 from

Sexual Assault Support Centre. (n.d.) Statistics. Retrieved November, 2013 from

Ullman, S. E. (2010). Talking about sexual assault: society’s response to survivor. Psychology of Women.

Ullman, S. E., & Filipas, H. H. (2001).  Predictors of PTSD symptom severity and social reactions in sexual assault victims. Trauma Stress, 14:2, 369-389.

Vancouver Police Department. (July 8, 2011). “DON’T BE THAT GUY” CAMPAIGN LAUNCH.  Retrieved November, 2013 from