Multinationals and NGOs amid a changing balance of power



    1. Professor of Management and Director of the Centre for International Business and Public Policy at Aberystwyth University.
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    • An earlier version of this article was presented at a study group at Chatham House, London, on 7 September 2012. The author is grateful to all participants at that meeting, particularly Amrita Narlikar, Caroline Soper and Stephen Woolcock, for their comments. George Frynas, Gian Luca Gardini, David Levi-Faur, Johan Lindeque and an anonymous referee also offered valuable comments and suggestions.


The role of private non-state actors in global governance has focused largely on western actors, notably firms and non-governmental organizations. The rise of new economic powers presents us with an opportunity to consider whether and how the place of non-state actors might evolve. This is particularly true where emerging market firms are concerned, as they are the most obvious manifestation of the shift in economic power away from the developed West and Japan. The article suggests, however, that the current international system satisfies most of the demands that firms from rising powers might make, so they have little incentive to define their policy preferences in opposition to established powers. They can conduct political activity across a range of avenues, from multilateral institutions to regulatory bodies overseeing technical aspects of business operations. Indeed, the disaggregation of modern capitalism makes the last route particularly important and attractive for firms. As such, they do not need to frame their policy demands solely—or even mainly—in terms of balancing against western economic dominance. For non-governmental organizations, the emerging power structure has eroded their previous role of advocates for developing economies. The economic growth of emerging markets has, however, given NGOs an opportunity to work with multinationals in the provision of public goods.