Effective Communication and Cooperation between Chinese NGOs and Businesses

China Development Brief

中文 English

This article serves as an introduction to our new Special Focus on “Effective Communication and Cooperation between NGOs and Businesses”. It originally formed the introduction to CDB’s latest research report which we released in July 2015 (you can view the original here). Over the next few weeks we will be publishing translations of the ten case studies contained in that report. The case studies detail partnerships between Chinese NGOs, foundations, and businesses.


Businesses nowadays have become an important part of the philanthropy world. Enterprises or entrepreneurs, using their corporate resources and business models, have penetrated deeply and extensively into philanthropy. Apart from financial investment and material support, they have indirect or direct impacts on the sector, for example in terms of governance structure, team building, professional training, and credibility. Their growing influence has also affected the traditional values of the sector.

Why we need to discuss cooperation between businesses and NGOs

Although businesses have had a long history of doing philanthropic work, the communication and cooperation between NGOs and businesses in China is still in its early stages. In the past, most businesses involved in philanthropy had little to do with Chinese NGOs. How to cooperate with NGOs and build a healthy environment is a new issue for the industry. Many NGOs today are inclined to produce “social impact” and push for social progress at the micro-level. However, when it comes to the development of NGOs or civil society as a whole, the important factors, opportunities, and challenges often come from structural changes on a macroscopic level. These include the external changes of government policies and the corporate sector. To fully grasp this dynamic environment, one must combine macro and micro observations.

As the localization of philanthropic resources in China speeds up, businesses and corporate foundations that have great powers of social mobilization and social resources are becoming important partners for Chinese NGOs. Yet in general, there is still a lack of effective cooperation and communication between businesses and NGOs in China. The relationship between businesses and NGOs still remains on the simplistic level of resource demand and service supply.

This relationship should grow on the basis of mutual understanding, with both sides learning from each other and developing together. It should not simply be a vertical relationship of donating and receiving donations. Chinese NGOs, through communication, should understand the needs of Chinese businesses, learn from businesses the skills of management, marketing, and use business ideas to solve social problems. As for Chinese businesses, the purpose of partnering with NGOs is not just to deal with public relations in crisis situations or to improve the company’s image. They should strive to gain more knowledge about civil society and the social issues that NGOs deal with, improve civic awareness, and strategically realize the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable development ideas. Moreover, because NGOs and business may have “conflicts of interests” due to their differing views and missions, it is necessary for both parties to have strong communication and transparent operations to find common ground for cooperation and to ultimately form a stable relationship.

China Development Brief has been working to push for the growth and capacity-building of Chinese NGOs for a long time through independent, objective, and accurate observations and by analyzing the latest developments and hottest trends in Chinese civil society. Considering the great structural changes that Chinese civil society is now experiencing, we believe that it must make efforts to break out of its insular shell and establish effective communication with other sectors. Through this, all sectors will be better able to reach a consensus on how to deal with challenges and seize opportunities for development. It is to achieve these goals that this report was written [the author is referring to the original research report available here].

The role of NGOs in the development of Corporate Social Responsibility

This introductory article will briefly examine the relationship between the development of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and NGOs in China. It is clear that the development of CSR was interconnected with social movements and market mechanisms at its very inception. China did not have consumer movements in the past, and campaigns promoting human rights and environment protection in the corporate sector have only started in recent years. As a result, the development of Chinese CSR in its early stages was driven by multinational co-operations and top-down reforms by China’s policy markers. But the participation of NGOs in the process later greatly enriched the movement.

Businesses and NGOs, with their own distinctive goals and missions, inhabit different sectors of society. It is only when they cross over on the issue of CSR that they become partners or competitors in the philanthropy field. The practice of CSR can be traced back to the 1980s when some American corporations caused great damage to the environment while operating their businesses. In order to avoid public outrage and criticism, they took precautionary measures to ameliorate the damage, and these attempts at rebuilding corporate images later became the foundations of CSR work. Yet the theoretical concepts of CSR had long before been coined by scholars in the early 20th century, reaching their climax in the 1980s, driven by international labor movements, human rights campaigns, consumer movements, and environmental movements and pushed by organizations within the framework of the United Nations. The direct driving force of CSR comes from consumer movements. Profits are the ultimate goal of all businesses, and consumers are the key element in the pursuit of profits, which means consumers’ opinions are valued the most by corporations, and corporate responsibilities that consumers pay attention to are the first priority of corporations. Under the pressure of consumer movements, multinational corporations started to focus on brand image and reputation. Surveys show that consumers, when choosing products and services from corporations, will gradually pay more attention to the company’s CSR work. CSR in its early days aimed mostly at improving labor conditions, but as more organizations with different aims and missions become involved and because of the complexity of the concept itself, the CSR movement is getting more and more complicated.

The changes and developments in cooperation between NGOs and businesses

When CSR became energised by the new social movements of the 1980s, Chinese consumers had not yet begun to understand consumer rights, and actions taken by social organizations (or NGOs) were rarely seen in the country. The establishment of the Chinese Consumer Association (the CCA) demonstrated the importance that the Party and the government were beginning to attach to the protection of consumer rights. However the real birth of CSR in China came from a combination of the need to incorporate international standards with the practices and innovations of the local business sector. For a long time Chinese consumer rights was represented by a single organization (the CCA) and became absorbed into the administrative system of China’s big government. At that time China did not have consumer movements. In general, the non-governmental forces in China, if not completely absent, were far less developed in promoting CSR than their international counterparts (Liu Haiying, 2013). The real and regular practice of CSR in China started from “Factory Check-ups” (查厂) by multi-national corporations in the 1990s. This refers to the practice of multi-national corporations checking their suppliers’ record of fulfilling social responsibilities (mostly the record of abiding by labor laws and regulations) before placing an order. “Factory Check-ups”, originated in Shenzhen in the 1990s, then gradually spread from the toy industry to clothing, shoes, leather, hardware and other consumer goods industries.

At the beginning of 2000, Chinese State Owned Enterprises started to research and experiment with CSR. Overseas, the assessment of corporate social achievements and social responsibilities had already started by the early 1990s. The “Dow Jones Sustainable Development Index” at that time already included corporate responsibilities to environment, society, and other interested groups. But China only began to make similar progress as late as 2006. In September 25th, 2006, Shenzhen Stock Exchange published the “Social Responsibility Instructions to Listed Companies”. Later on the Shanghai Stock Exchange published the “Guide to Environmental Information to Listed Companies”. Both called for listed companies to fulfil their social responsibility and push for social, economical and environmental sustainable development. On January 2008, the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission published the “Guide to Central Enterprises Fulfilling Social Responsibilities”. China has now has also created a series of sectoral CSR standards. Today there are also old, new, and amended laws and regulations that relate to CSR such as China’s Constitution, the Corporate Law, the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Disabled People, the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, the Law on the Protection of Minors, the Labor Law, and the Environmental Protection Law.

China implemented the Law on Donations for Public Welfare (公益事业捐赠法) on September 1st, 1999. It aims to encourage individuals and legal persons to donate to legally registered non-profit social groups (公益性社会团体) and non-profit institutions affiliated to the government (公益性事业单位) for the development of the public welfare sector. The law regulates “the act of donation and receiving donations”, protects the lawful rights of donors, recipients and beneficiaries, and it also acts as a guide for businesses to participate in philanthropy. Moreover, according to China’s Corporate Income Tax Law (企业所得税法), as long as philanthropic donations made through non-profit social groups or governments above the county level are less than 12% of the annual profits of a corporation, they can be deducted from taxable incomes. In some special circumstances, the government can also carry out other tax deduction policies to encourage businesses to make philanthropic donations. For example, after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, several departments jointly issued a document that enabled individuals and corporations to deduct before taxation 100% of the amount that they had donated to the stricken areas through non-profit social groups or governments and governmental departments above county level (财税 [2008] 104号). These tax preferential policies that come with philanthropic donations can help reduce the financial burdens on businesses, and donating to philanthropy have gradually become a useful strategy. On the one hand, charitable donations help corporations fulfil their social responsibilities and gain social recognition; on the other, today it has now become a part of corporate tax planning, helping them to make more effective and reasonable tax-related strategies.

Tracking back the development of CSR in China has shown that the role of NGOs, as independent third parties, was not significant in the early stages. The government successfully isolated China’s emergent consumer movement by executing administrative powers through the the Consumer Association. However today, 30 years later, the structure of Chinese society has changed: diversified interest groups have formed, and one single force or single organization cannot fix a problem where multiple interest groups are involved. Therefore, Chinese NGOs along with other social communities are now exerting their powers and influence like never before in pushing the development of CSR and social progress.

Additionally, the change in enterprises and entrepreneurs has also created better conditions for NGOs’ involvement in advancing the development of CSR. The rapid growth and accumulation of wealth in society and in private enterprises have provided a new material base for them to participate in philanthropy. The impact of this newly emerged class is manifested firstly in the control of the means of production and then the allocation of social resources. Through controlling their businesses, they can have an impact on society. Although the majority of them “have not yet passed, the early stages of development” (Xu Yongguang, 2009), as their control of the social economy is strengthening, the elites of the class are becoming more pro-active. Private wealth enters philanthropy as an independent agent, and philanthropy in turn becomes an ideal platform for enterprises and entrepreneurs to achieve their value-dictated goals. Since NGOs were early starters in the sector, and they have the advantage of expertise and close relationships with interest groups and related communities, they’ve now become important partners of those enterprises and entrepreneurs.

As described above, the Chinese public has witnessed the important role that NGOs have played in pushing for the development of CSR in recent years. For example Greenpeace’s forest protection program, pesticide detection program and GMO commercialization inquiry program are all successful consumer movements that have started in mainland China. These movements, unlike small-circle activities organized by NGOs in the past, have connected the media, corporations, and consumers. In recent times local Chinese NGOs are continuing to push businesses to take social responsibilities, and public participation has become an important part in the making of new laws such as the Environment Law and the Civil Procedure Law. In particular, the emergence of the Chinese environmental movement shows not only the awakening of citizenship awareness and the growth of NGOs, but also the improvement of government openness and tolerance. There are also examples of NGOs pushing for practices of CSR in the field of labor rights, including labor rights protection advocacy by NGOs, pro bono legal service, and college students’ acting as watchdogs over corporations. Some of these will be included in the translated case studies.


The first case study will be published in August.










第一章 企业社会责任发展中的公益组织


本章,通过简要梳理企业社会责任在中国的发展和公益组织的关系,可以看出,企业社会责任的出现一开始就是与社会运动、市场机制相联系的。中国过去没 有消费者运动这一环,针对企业的人权、环境保护也是最近这些年才开始的。所以中国企业社会责任最初的发端,是来自跨国企业的带动和中国国内政策制定者自上 而下推动的,公益组织后来的加入,丰富了这一进程。


企业社会责任在实践上的发展可以追溯到上个世纪80年代,美国一些公司在经营的同时对环境造成了极大危害,想在这些破坏产生较大的公众影响、受到舆论指责 之前,先采取一些举措弥补过错,这些实践最初的诉求只是企业形象的重塑 ,但企业社会责任这个概念在20世纪初就由学者提出了,到了80年代因为国际劳工运动、人权运动、消费者运动、环保运动的推动,并在联合国有关机构的鼓励 和促进下,逐渐走向高潮 。企业社会责任运动的兴起直接动力来源于消费者运动。企业以盈利为基础和终极目标,消费者将是企业最为关注的利益相关者,消费者的态度会得到企业的重视 ,消费者关注的责任即成为企业首先履行的责任 。在消费者运动的压力下,跨国公司开始关注自己的品牌形象和美誉度。有调查显示,消费者在选择产品和服务时候,对公司的企业社会责任的关注度是不断提高 的。企业社会责任最早着眼于改善劳工状况,随着带着不同目标和宗旨的组织介入和背后复杂的思想体系,企业社会责任运动变得有些复杂 。


当企业社会责任在各种新社会运动下走向高潮的1980年代,中国消费者还没有进入消费权利启蒙阶段,鲜见民间组织的行动。1980年代成立的中国消费者协 会代表着党和政府对消费者权益保护工作高度重视,但它的诞生缘于与国际接轨诉求和基层工商部门的实践创新的结合.此后很长一段时间内,中国消费者权益被一 个组织所代表,并成功收纳在行政体系内,彼时中国并不存在消费者运动。整体上说,在促进企业社会责任方面中国民间力量并没有与国际同步,甚至是缺失的(刘 海英,2013)。到了1990年代,中国企业社会责任从跨国公司的查厂开始。所谓“查厂”,是指跨国公司在给供应商下订单前,先对其履行社会责任(主要 是遵守劳动法规)的情况进行审核,确认其合格后才下订单的一种做法。1990年代发端于深圳的跨国公司的“查厂”,从玩具行业逐步拓展到服装、制鞋、皮 革、五金、化工、电子等所有消费品行业 。

到了2000年初,中国国企,尤其是大型央企已经开始研究、探索企业社会责任。1990年代初国外开始了对企业社会绩效和社会责任的评价。“美国道琼斯可 持续发展指数”中有关于企业对环境、社会、利益相关者的责任。中国是在2006年迈出的这一步是。2006年9月25日深交所正式颁布实施了《上市公司社 会责任指引》,后来上交所也发布了《关于加强上市公司社会责任承担工作暨发布<上海证券交易所上市公司环境信息披露指引>的通知》,倡导上市 公司承担社会责任,促进社会、环境和经济可持续发展,披露社会责任报告和环境保护信息。2008年1月,国资委下发了《关于中央企业履行社会责任的指导意 见》 。国际上逐步出现了一系列的全球大企业社会责任规范标准,在我国,目前也有一系列的核心法律法规,如宪法、公司法、残疾人保障法、未成年人保护法、妇女权 益保护法、工会法、环境保护法等;还有一系列行业社会责任标准 。

我国自1999年9月1日起施行《中华人民共和国公益事业捐赠法》,鼓励自然人、法人自愿无偿向依法成立的公益性社会团体和公益性非营利的事业单位捐赠财 产,用于促进公益事业发展。该法规范了捐赠和受赠行为,保护了捐赠人、受赠人和受益人的合法权益,指导企业应如何参与公益事业。

此外,依据《中华人民共和国企业所得税法》的规定,企业通过公益性社会团体或者县级以上人民政府及其部门,用于公益事业的捐赠支出,在年度利润总额12% 以内的部分,准予在计算应纳税所得额时扣除;在一些特殊的情况下,国家还会出台一系列税收优惠文件,允许全额扣除应纳税所得额,鼓励企业大力参与公益性捐 赠。如:汶川地震期间,财政部 海关总署 国家税务总局联合发文,对企业、个人通过公益性社会团体、县级以上人民政府及其部门向受灾地区的捐赠,允许在当年企业所得税前和当年个人所得税前全额扣 除。(摘自财税〔2008〕104号《关于支持汶川地震灾后恢复重建有关税收政策问题的通知》)。企业公益性捐赠带来的税前扣除,带来企业所得税税收上的 减免,为企业减轻了经济负担。企业进行公益性捐赠,已经逐渐成为企业的一种策略,一方面企业积极履行社会责任,获得社会认可;另一方面,也已成为企业税收 筹划的一部分,帮助企业合理有效规划税收。

通过上文粗略所述企业社会责任在中国发展的沿革可见,作为独立第三方的公益组织的作用在最初阶段并不显著。政府曾以消费者协会行政主导模式成功地消解了中 国消费者运动,但在30年之后的今天,中国社会格局已经发生一些变化,多元利益主体已经形成,单靠某种力量,或者单一的组织主体已经不能解决多元利益主体 的参与机制问题。所以,中国民间组织和其他社会群体一起,在推动企业社会责任和社会进步方向上,正在爆发以往所不曾出现的力量和影响力。

另外,企业(家)阶层的变化也为公益组织参与推动企业社会责任提供了比以往更有利的条件。民营企业的迅猛发展和民间财富的快速增长为参与公益准备了物质基 础。这个新阶层对社会的影响,首先表现在对生产资料的拥有和控制与社会资源的分配上。通过对企业的控制,影响和控制社会。虽然对于大多数企业“发展的初级 阶段还没有越过去,”(徐永光,2009)但随着对社会经济控制能力的提高,企业(家)新阶层中的优秀分子逐渐从自在走向自为,一个自为的集团逐渐形成。 民间财富以一种独立的姿态进入公益领域,公益领域是企业(家)施展抱负、实现价值的一个理想平台。公益组织因其起步早、有一定专业性、熟悉社区和服务群体 等特点,吸引企业视公益组织为重要的合作伙伴。

基于上述的背景和条件,公众看到公益组织近年来对企业社会责任的推动方面的工作。国际环保组织绿色和平在大陆开展的保护森林项目、农药检测和质疑转基因商 业化等项目,是在大陆发动的比较成功的消费者活动;这些活动将媒体、商家、消费者联系起来,而不是以往民间组织一个小圈子的项目活动。本土民间组织推动企 业履行社会责任一直连续不断,最新出台的《环保法》和《民事诉讼法》,公众参与已经成为其中重要内容。尤其是中国环境运动已经出现,一方面是公民权利意识 的提升、民间组织的成长,另一个方面,也是因为政府容忍度、开放程度有明显进步。劳工组织的劳工权利维护和法律援助、大学生对企业的监察等,是在劳工领域 本土公益组织推动企业社会责任的实践。在本报告中将呈现在劳工领域的在推动企业社会责任方面的新策略和进展。

Translated by Zack Lei Zhou

Reviewed by Wu Weiming

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