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Outsiders speaking up

Outside special-interest groups are putting icreased pressure, not only on US corporations, but on companies around the world, the conference Board reports in a study covering 400 companies.

More than 90 percent of them report increased attempts by outsiders to participate in corporate decisionmaking over the last five years.

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One indication of the power of outside pressure groups: Nearly half of the executives surveyed say that outsiders have more influence than governments on selected issues.

The most active outside pressure groups are not environmental, consumer, and women's groups, but labor unions, business and industry organizations, political parties, and religious groups. The new study says "the challenge is in the form of a demand by people outside management for participation -- in the name of the larger public good -- in decisions traditionally reserved to management, such as hiring policy and plant location."

Virtually all companies deal directly with outside pressure groups. The majority of them attempt either to exchange views with protesters (40 percent) or to clarify basic issues of dispute (38 percent). Another group (14 percent) tries to convince outsiders the company position is correct -- this id especially true for the nuclear power industry and companies with South African investments.

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