Watchdog Organization

Non-profit organizations that critically monitor the activities of governments or other entities on behalf of the public.

What Is a Watchdog Organization?

A watchdog is an organization that observes, inspects, or monitors the activities of another group or an individual (such as the government, political groups, and corporations). The term refers to the act of monitoring rather than the type of organization.

Counter to the common belief that watchdog groups are essential to keeping governmental agencies in check, some watchdog groups have been criticized for becoming too closely associated with their target organizations or industries. Critics argue that such associations could compromise their ability to act as independent watchdogs.

There are several different types of watchdog organizations, including:

Consumer Watchdogs 

These organizations use investigative journalism techniques to investigate corporate practices and report their findings to the public. They might also attempt to influence government policy through lobbying or other methods. Consumer watchdogs may focus on everything from food products to banking services.

Corporate Watchdogs

Organizations that monitor corporate activity and hold companies accountable for wrongdoings are typically referred to as corporate watchdogs. They have power similar to consumer watchdogs, including creating reports and making recommendations regarding corporate behavior. Some corporate watchdog groups also have the power to file lawsuits against companies they believe have engaged in corruption or human rights violations.

Government Watchdogs

Government watchdog organizations are necessary in all three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) to ensure transparency. The U.S. has numerous government watchdogs, including the Congressional Budget Office, Government Accountability Office, the Federal Communications Commission, and several offices within each state’s legislature.

Charity Watchdogs

A charity watchdog organization may be an independent organization or affiliated with another entity or government. Charities are rated using objective standards that measure how efficiently they operate. They hold charities accountable for how they spend donations and advocate for donors to support the best-performing charities.

Advertising Watchdogs

An advertising watchdog is a company that monitors the advertising industry for questionable marketing methods and practices. The goal of an advertising watchdog is to ensure that all types of advertisements are truthful and abide by the law. They also work to protect consumers from fraudulent claims and to ensure that the public is informed about the products they purchase.

Watchdog organizations also exist at the international level; for example, Global Witness is an NGO that investigates corruption throughout the world. It analyzes natural resource agreements to ensure that they comply with fair-trade laws and publicize their findings so that companies will be pressured to honor them.

The effectiveness of a watchdog is largely determined by the resources available to it. For example, an independent watchdog typically has fewer funding sources than one connected to a corporate or government entity. The information available to an independent watchdog also tends to be less comprehensive because companies and governments have more resources at their disposal and can hide information more readily than individuals who operate independently.