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Humanitarian Assistance and Corporate Social Responsibility

Humanitarian Assistance and Corporate Social Responsibility


Lothar Rieth

This chapter addresses the potential for non- commercial business engagement in humanitarian assistance, with a particular focus on disaster relief. With only a few exceptions, the potential for corporate contribution to disaster relief operations has previously not been fully realized. There have only been a few partnership projects between corporations and the UN or corporations and civil society organizations. In addition, major donors such as the EU and national implementing agencies have been quite hesitant and disinterested in cooperating with business actors in the aftermath of natural disasters.

An examination of different types of non- commercial business engagement in the past and corresponding business motivations constitutes the starting point for the analysis. Motivations and conditions under which businesses engage in natural disaster response are identified. In conjunction with current donor policies, the potential of non- commercial business engagement and its major obstacles are discussed. General and detailed policy recommendations are formulated.

Owing to financial constraints this chapter is based primarily on desk research. Secondary sources, grey materials and interviews were used to gather information as field visits were not possible. Nevertheless, a thorough examination of the issues at hand was possible and the results of this study show that business contributions to disaster relief can constitute functional supplements to disaster recovery operations, but in the short and mid- term perspective will only complement, not replace, public sector and civil society efforts. The analysis underlines two aspects: by definition business contributions, be they commercial or non- commercial, do not fully comply with the fundamental humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence and humanity. Yet, if ground rules for non- commercial business engagement can be established, then the potential contribution of business can be realized in natural disaster recovery. If properly crafted, partnerships with corporate actors can significantly contribute to improved humanitarian aid operations on the ground by providing additional financial and non- financial resources, thus making humanitarian aid more effective and, at times, more efficient.


History of Disaster Response— An Overview

On the whole, states in western Europe, North America and most other OECD countries cope very well with the effects of medium- sized natural disasters. Local institutions, such as fire brigades, police, military, federal agencies for technical relief, the Red Cross and other civil society organizations, are able to provide sufficient humanitarian assistance such that state governments are not forced to call for international assistance. In the cases of Hurricane Lothar in western Europe in 1999, the Oder river flood in Poland and Germany in 1997, or the heat wave in France in 2003, state agencies in cooperation with other national actors were more or less able to manage the major consequences of natural disasters. Yet non- OECD countries, such as those in regions with low or uneven levels of development, are often located in disaster- prone regions and are more often affected by natural disasters.

Humanitarian Assistance and Corporate Social Responsibility

In addition, climate change has caused the magnitude, sheer number, scale and quantity of natural disasters to increase over time.

As a result of governance gaps and resource deficiencies, governments, even when working with civil society organizations, have at times been unable to provide adequate remedies and perform necessary relief functions. In the past decade, business actors have become increasingly important in international politics, utilizing material and organizational resources to take on corporate responsibility and contribute to the production of public goods. As a consequence, business actors have become more active in humanitarian relief operations and have recently made significant contributions.

So far, there is little systematic knowledge among practitioners or academics as to whether and under what conditions business can make significant contributions to humanitarian relief efforts. This chapter attempts to shed some light on various facets of non- commercial business engagement in disaster response operations. It starts by assuming there is potential for philanthropic business engagement in humanitarian assistance i.e. that business actors do not engage in and contribute to disaster relief efforts solely with a short- term aim to generate revenues or profits.

In the second section, an overview of four natural disasters is presented. Based on in- depth business illustrations focusing on companies that display similarities and differences across various industries (Deutsche Post World Net/Germany from the logistics sector; Coca- Cola/ U.S. from the beverage sector; Microsoft/U.S. from the software sector), 5 three types of business engagement are introduced: donations, volunteering and expertise.

Motivations for business actors to engage in disaster relief operations are described in the third section, looking at societal, outward and inward dimensions. Then, current donor policies on business engagement from major donors, such as Germany, the U.S., and the UK, are presented. In the fifth section, the major aspects of contention of non- commercial business engagement in humanitarian relief are discussed, followed by a number of concrete policy recommendations.


Methods of Non- Commercial Business Engagement in Natural Disasters

humanitarian relief efforts. A detailed overview of the four natural disasters can be found in the third section of this study. Table 1 provides a brief overview of each.


Source: Humanitarian Assistance and Corporate Social Responsibility


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