How to manage big business: problems of engaging with private companies

Managing the private sector

The private sector is a major driver of harm. Managing private actors requires transparency and skills of conflict resolution and negotiation. There may be circumstances in which partnership with industry is appropriate, but such circumstances will be rare and will depend on a wide variety of factors, including wider policy trajectories.

In most cases managing the private sector will require binding regulation. However, the trend in contemporary governance structures is to engage directly with business and to develop ‘voluntary’ approaches to governance. We will review some key examples of this approach showing the limitations in principle or practice and drawing on the existing evidence base.

Partnership governance, social responsibility, and self-regulation

The dominant trend in governance in the EU and most member states is towards partnership governance, including strategies of ‘nudge’, self regulation, ‘better regulation’, and corporate social responsibility. All of these aim to persuade business to improve their performance in relation to specific goals. In the field of addictions and public health we can see examples at the EU level in the EAHF or the EU Platform on Diet Physical Activity and Health. In the UK similar examples include Change for Life (Miller and Harkins, 2010) and the various responsibility deals (in relation to food, alcohol, and health at work) From the public health point of view each of these approaches is flawed first of all because they are ineffective. Any gains that they do make are used by the companies in their lobbying strategies to avoid meaninful progress and in many cases alleged gains of the relevant programmes are either matters of representational sleight of hand, commitments that have already been made in other contexts, or simply reflect pre-existing trends in market decline (Keenan et al., 2009; Sustain , 2010, 2011; Gilmore et al., 2011; House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, 2011; Panjwani and Caraher, 2014).

Although the tobacco and alcohol industries are at the forefront of pushing for further concessions via Better Regulation and indeed via the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership(Corporate Europe Observatory, 2015), it is also the case that some progress has been made, especially in the regulation of tobacco. We can briefly refer to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to illustrate why it is necessary to adopt a firm hand with addictive industries (see Box 9.6).

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