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[Excerpt] There are serious tensions between NGOs and trade unions, two major advocates of workers’ rights, that underlie any discussion of workplace codes of conduct. The tensions stem from questions of legitimacy that bedevil both communities. Trade unionists see themselves as representing stable organizations with dues-paying members. They have a ready answer to the question “Whom do you represent?” The situation for NGOs is far more complex. No single organization speaks authoritatively for the NGO community. Unlike union leaders, NGO activists are not elected. Some NGOs are membership organizations funded by contributions from individuals. Payments are often sporadic and crisis-driven, in contrast to regular union dues. Other NGOs depend on government grants, wealthy individuals, foundations, and even corporate donations. Dependence on such sources tends to limit NGO activities to those that do not exceed the risks that the funders are willing to take, whereas unions are constrained only by the democratically determined wishes of their members.


Suggested Citation
Compa, L. (2000). NGO-labor union tensions on the ground [Electronic version]. New York, NY: Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.
Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations site:

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Copyright by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs,