NGOs, civil society and accountability: making the people accountable to capital

Rob Gray, Jan Bebbington, David Collison

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    200 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Purpose – The purpose of this research is to seek to understand and explain the non-governmental organisation (NGO) and its location in civil society in order to provide a basis for future research work. The paper aims to explore and develop understandings of accountability specifically in the context of the NGO and then extend these insights to the accountability of all organisations. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is framed within a theoretical conception of accountability and is primarily literature-based. In addition secondary data relating to the issues of concern are collated and synthesised. Findings – The research finds that the essence of accountability lies in the relationships between the organisation and the society and/or stakeholder groups of interest. The nature of this relationship allows us to infer much about the necessary formality and the channels of accountability. In turn, this casts a light upon taken-for-granted assumptions in the corporate accountability and reminds us that the essence and basis of success of the corporate world lies in its withdrawal from any form of human relationship and the consequential colonisation and oppression of civil society. Research limitations/implications – The principal implications relate to: our need to improve the analytical incisiveness of our applications of accountability theory; and the possibility of the accounting literature offering more developed insights to the NGO literature. The primary limitations lie in the paper in being: exploratory of a more developed understanding of accountability; and a novel excursion into the world of the NGO and civil society – neither of which feature greatly in the accounting literature. Practical implications – These lie in the current political struggles between civil society and capital over appropriate forms of accountability. Corporations continue to avoid allowing themselves to be held accountable whilst civil society organisations are often accountable in many different and informal ways. Ill-considered calls from capital for more oppressive NGO accountability are typically, therefore, hypocritical and inappropriate. Originality/value – NGOs are introduced in a detailed and accessible way to the accounting literature. The concept of accountability is further developed by examination of relationships and channels in the context of the NGO and, through Rawls' notion of “closeness”, is further enriched.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)319-348
    Number of pages30
    JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
    Volume19
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2006

    Keywords

    • Capital
    • Corporate social responsibility
    • Society
    • Non governmental organizations

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