Our History

Since being founded in 1971 by Charles Medawar and Michael Young, PIRC has engaged in a rigorous critique of corporate and government power.

PIRC was originally conceived of as an offshoot of the Public Citizen network of organisations created in the US by Ralph Nader. Our first Chairman Michael Young was author of the radical 1945 Labour Party manifesto and founded numerous public interest organisations, among them Consumers Association & The Open University.

PIRC was set up as a Registered Charity (No.266446) in 1972, together with Social Audit Ltd—a non-profit body which has acted independently as PIRC’s publishing arm.

In the early days, PIRC set out to develop and apply methodologies for assessing corporate performance, and also focused attention on the problem of excessive secrecy in government and other areas of public life. Much of this early work was reported in the organisation’s quarterly journal, ‘Social Audit’. Since then we have produced a mix of in-house reports and published research.

At the same time, we began to generalise our work to look at issues rather than specific companies, and to operate not only in our own name but increasingly through campaigning organisations such as Health Action International, the Campaign for Freedom of Information and Public Concern at Work.

Increasingly the banner of Social Audit has become associated with a powerful critique of the pharmaceutical industry. Through Social Audit, Charles Medawar continues to explore the tension within the pharmaceutical industry between delivering health benefits and the larger problem of dependency.

In 2005, Tim Helweg-Larsen joined PIRC as Development Manager. Under Tim’s guidance, we shifted the focus of our activities, directing our attention at the interplay between the fundamental issues of environment, energy and economics.

In 2007, Richard Hawkins joined PIRC, and in 2011, he and Guy Shrubsole took over PIRC as Directors, maintaining our focus on sustainability. Our subsequent involvement in the Common Cause project gave us a lightbulb moment: recognising that over the years, PIRC had been unwittingly contending with values in various areas of its work. This was most notable in the implicit value assumptions in policymaking and in the cultural drivers of social and environmental polarisation. Since Guy’s departure in 2012, Richard and the rest of the PIRC team have broadened their remit to encompass the range of social and environmental issues: all through the lens of values.

In keeping with PIRC’s history, our work continues to examine causes rather than symptoms in an independent, rigorous and direct manner.