A framework of NGO inside and outside strategies in the commercial determinants of health: findings from a narrative review

Belinda Townsend, Timothy Johnson, Rob Ralston, Katherine Cullerton, Jane Martin, Jeff Collin, Fran Baum, Liz Arnanz, Rodney Holmes, Sharon Friel

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    Background: Public health scholarship has uncovered a wide range of strategies used by industry actors to promote their products and influence government regulation. Less is known about the strategies used by non-government organisations to attempt to influence commercial practices. This narrative review applies a political science typology to identify a suite of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ strategies used by NGOs to attempt to influence the commercial determinants of health. Methods: We conducted a systematic search in Web of Science, ProQuest and Scopus. Articles were eligible for inclusion if they comprised an empirical study, explicitly sought to examine ‘NGOs’, were in English, and identified at least one NGO strategy aimed at commercial and/or government policy and practice. Results: One hundred forty-four studies met the inclusion criteria. Eight industry sectors were identified: extractive, tobacco, food, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, weapons, textiles and asbestos, and a small number of general studies. We identified 18 types of NGO strategies, categorised according to the target (i.e. commercial actor or government actor) and type of interaction with the target (i.e. inside or outside). Of these, five NGO ‘inside’ strategies targeted commercial actors directly: 1) participation in partnerships and multistakeholder initiatives; 2) private meetings and roundtables; 3) engaging with company AGMs and shareholders; 4) collaborations other than partnerships; and 5) litigation. ‘Outside’ strategies targeting commercial actors through the mobilisation of public opinion included 1) monitoring and reporting; 2) protests at industry sites; 3) boycotts; 4) directly engaging the public; and 5) creative use of alternative spaces. Four NGO ‘inside’ strategies directly targeting government actors included: 1) lobbying; 2) drafting legislation, policies and standards; 3) providing technical support and training; and 4) litigation. NGO ‘outside’ strategies targeting government included 1) protests and public campaigns; 2) monitoring and reporting; 3) forum shifting; and 4) proposing and initiating alternative solutions. We identified three types of NGO impact: substantive, procedural, and normative. Conclusion: The analysis presents a matrix of NGO strategies used to target commercial and government actors across a range of industry sectors. This framework can be used to guide examination of which NGO strategies are effective and appropriate, and which conditions enable NGO influence.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    JournalGlobalization and Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

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