The process of engaging with companies can be slow and frustrating. It can be difficult to gauge how much influence you have.
On the positive side, a good number of major companies have developed comprehensive sets of policy statements and codes of conduct on issues such as human rights, donations and environmental management. Much of this may be due to investor and civil society pressure and dialogue.
One example of such pressure being effective concerns the pricing of HIV/AIDS medicines in the global south. This was a major issue in the late 1990s and early 2000s when it became apparent that millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere were being denied treatment because their governments and aid agencies could not afford to buy the necessary drugs. Churches, trades unions, NGOs and institutional investors took up the issue, and the situation has improved greatly, with many AIDS drugs far cheaper than before.
Many NGOs and community groups believe that, while many companies will engage in dialogue and perhaps even make policy changes, they will be reluctant to significantly change how they work. Companies are large, complex organisations. Changing the corporate culture and the way they do things takes time. If you engage with a company, at some point you will need to assess whether any changes you have been told about are more than cosmetic.
When trying to influence a company, recognise that you won’t achieve your aims instantly and that any gains will probably be longer term. Maintaining shareholder and civil society pressure on companies is crucial. Without it, businesses are much less likely to make meaningful changes.