A successful campaign and the resourcing of ideas

Publish What You Pay (PWYP) is an organisation that campaigns for resource extraction companies to publish all royalties and other payments made in the countries in which they work. It is largely focussed on companies working in poorer countries where corruption is less subtle than we are used to and where governments often secretly negotiate deals that are bad for the general population.

Predicably the corporations involved don’t like this very much. I’m used to watching campaigns that corporations don’t like getting precisely nowhere with their demands. Publish What You Pay has been very successful.

It led initially to a voluntary program called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which has some minor achievements under its belt despite being voluntary.

Recently the Dodd-Frank act in the US was passed, requiring all resource extraction companies listed on the NY stock exchange to declare all their payments across the world. The EU is now discussing similar legislation that would apply to London and other exchanges across Europe.

It’s admittedly a small tweak to the system but the corporations really, really did not want it. So what swung it? Money and access. PWYP is funded by Soros’s Open Society Foundation and an array of the biggest development charities. This means it has the money and the people to go to all the top-level conferences and meet with governments across the globe.

Much as I love the little NGOs like Corporate Watch, I kind of suspect that PWYP will have a bigger impact on corporate practices in a few years than everything Corporate Watch will ever do.

There are obviously strict limits to what *money* will be prepared to campaign for, but as someone who sees the benefits of certain types of reform I can feel the dark side calling here. PWYP did something that worked. But how far can we go with trying to resource ideas for change before we just join sections of the elite battling for their own slice of the pie? Can more democratic/horizontal organisations mitigate against this risk? Can such organisations get the resources? Should the dangers of it prevent us from playing the game at all?

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