Home > Publications > Dialogue or engineering of consent? Opportunities and risks of talking to industry

Campaigns which challenge large corporations to act in socially responsible ways are not
new. Since the 1970s, citizen action groups have been attempting to achieve change by means
of public awareness raising, boycotts, shareholder resolutions, postcard mailings, court cases
and other campaign strategies. At first, most of the corporations and business associations
which were the objects of criticism reacted either by denying responsibility or by attempting
to discredit those who criticised them. Today, however, the corporate community casts
‘dialogues’ with critics as one of the best ways to deal with contentious issues.

What lies behind the offers of large corporations and business associations to enter into
dialogue with them? Do such offers really indicate a change in attitude on the part of industry
– and if so, in what direction? Or do they merely constitute a more sophisticated strategy for
defending corporate practices that are subject to criticism?

In this paper, Judith Richter, renowned international expert on public interest safeguards in the field of health and nutrition, provides a useful perspective on the opportunities and risks to engage in talks with the industry.