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Activist Apologies - An Oxymoron?

Apologies have become the norm for companies after committing some sort of indiscretion, harm to the environment or causing individuals to be hurt or inconvenienced. (This in spite of their lawyers often counseling them against doing so.) And this is how it should be since an apology, if done with sincerity, creates trust.

But have you ever heard an activist NGO or advocacy group apologize for the purposeful or even unwitting manipulation of an image, or the willful misuse of factually inaccurate information to bolster a position. I asked some activist friends this question and they couldn't think of a single instance.

Ah, you say, but they don't make mistakes, or if they do it shouldn't matter because they have the force of a higher of moral purpose on their side . . . And besides, the rationalization probably goes, 'companies have more resources than we do to make their case' so it is alright for the - let's call it what it is - lie to stand uncorrected.

Having worked in issue management for many years, I can name at least a dozen instances from my own experience in which advocacy groups refused to acknowledge errors or to apologize, for example, for using a wrong image purposely because it helped strengthen their case. Not once in that time has an activist NGO stood up and said 'I am sorry for using what I knew to be an incorrect number or a falsely attributed image. And I regret the harm it caused the company/organization.'

If NGOs are having harder time building broader support for their campaigns, maybe it's because we don't trust them to tell the truth or apologize for the harm they do when they don't.

I would like to see activists held to the same standard as they say their targets should be. Perhaps the public or media will some day ask them to do so. Or maybe once I stop consulting, I'll start a watchdog group for NGO accountability.


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