Non-governmental Organizations or better known as NGOs, are independent organizations that are usually but not necessarily non-for-profit. They have support from the public but is this enough to reach their objectives?

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”-Helen Keller 

When we think of NGOs, it is not unusual to imagine small organizations that mainly provide humanitarian aid. This is not inaccurate, indeed, many NGOs are born when there is the notion that governmental institutions are not employing their resources in the right way. Consequently, people come together and form NGOs in an attempt to solve these problems themselves. Still, along the years, governmental institutions and Non-profit organizations have realized that working together can be highly efficient; particularly when there is evidence that working separately “can result in duplication of efforts and failure to accomplish health goals.” 

A study published in the journal “Health policy and Planning” shows the immense success of the collaboration between the National TB Control Programme (NTB) and several other NGOs focussed on the health sector in Bangladesh. Through this partnership, the NTB was able to spread TB awareness, in that way encouraging people to seek medical help if they suspected having this disease. 

The collaboration between governments and NGOs might not be surprising since they share the aim of improving the lifestyle and wellbeing of vulnerable groups of the population. 

NGOs have certainly expanded their influence from working with governmental institutions to partnering with unlikely allies like businesses. According to Seitanidi and Ryan (2007), in the past few years, there had been an increase in cross-sectional partnerships in which firms and NGOs work together towards certain goals. 

There are many instances where partnerships between businesses and NGOs have been widely successful for both entities. 

Helen Keller International is an NGO that works towards preventing blindness in vulnerable populations. In 1990, Procter & Gamble decided to fortify Star Margarine with vitamin A in an attempt to fight malnutrition. Vitamin A deficiency leads to preventable childhood blindness so, Helen Keller International sponsored a successful advertising campaign of the product that increased sales by 25% within 3 years. Therefore, the campaign benefited both organizations.  

NGOs and International Trade

It is clear that NGOs play a major role in providing humanitarian aid. However, there are several NGOs that are responsible for facilitating national and international trade as well. Organizations like Care International, use trade as a tool to empower women by improving their financial literacy. Other NGOs such as Consumer Reports are dedicated to product testing and protecting the consumer in the marketplace. Furthermore, certain NGOs campaigns have proved to be heavily influential in international trade policies. 

The Importance of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, signed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), was created to replace the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). TRIPS was looking to effectively enforce harsher laws that protect intellectual property, something that WIPO was accused of failing to do. 

Intellectual property rights have more weight in international trade than most people think because it affects the financial gains of numerous industries. It is estimated that just in 1986, the US lost at least 43 billion dollars due to lax WIPO authority. Therefore, the pharmaceutical industries in the US and the European Union (EU) embraced the TRIPS agreement and used it as a tool to maintain their control over life-saving medicines. 

NGOs and Global Trade: Non-state voices in EU trade policymaking

In her book “NGOs and Global Trade: Non-state voices in EU trade policymaking,” Erin Hannah explains that during the AIDS epidemic in Africa, the South African government enacted the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act that would allow local companies to produce generic medicines at an affordable price. The US and the EU strongly opposed the act citing that it would be breaking the TRIPS agreement. South Africa was then threatened with trade sanctions if it did not repeal the act. 

Developing countries in partnerships with NGOs such as the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and other health-related NGOs protested the measures taken against South Africa. The movement was so successful both the US and the EU withdrew their accusation. In light of the power of the campaign, the EU decided to hold a meeting with leading NGOs in order to discuss public health policies. This means that NGOs gained more power to influence the way property rights were enforced, thus the way patented products are traded in the international market. 

As can be seen, there is a variety of ways in which NGOs influence the local and global market. 

Still, because NGOs are independent organizations that are often non-profit, most of them can have issues creating the impact they would like. To solve this problem, as mentioned earlier, many of them partner with firms and governments in order to reach more people. 

Furthermore, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has worked extensively to establish a line of communication and cooperation with NGOs. The WTO organizes the annual Public Forum where NGOs, governmental organizations and businesses are invited to discuss “various trade issues, ranging from the future of trade to harnessing globalization.”

What is the future for NGOs?

It is clear that good intentions alone do not equate to results. NGOs teach us that cooperation is key in order to gain influence and generate change.

In 2006, the World Economic Forum conducted a survey in 20 countries and found that there has been a decline in trust in global companies as well as NGOs. This means that NGOs need to collaborate with businesses as much as businesses need to collaborate with NGOs. They need to work together to increase the support from the public. However, there is a renewed public interest in topics such as environmental sustainability and social inequality; these are issues that NGOs tend to focus on and that affect international policy. Acknowledging how influential are NGOs in international trade, it is in businesses’ best interest to follow the WTO steps and strengthen their relationship with non-governmental organizations