The private sector is playing an increasing role in international relations. Working with the private sector enables us to promote humanitarian principles with companies operating in war-prone areas and to help the victims of war through mutually beneficial partnerships based on ethical criteria.
Ethical principles guiding the ICRC’s partnerships with the private sector
The aim of these guidelines is to establish a transparent framework for relationships between companies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that involve support from the private sector to the ICRC (e.g. donation in cash or in kind, sponsoring, cause-related marketing, technical assistance). The term “Companies” encompasses private firms, their foundations and State-owned enterprises.
As a matter of principle, a partnership must strengthen — and in no way undermine — the capacity of the organization to carry out its activities worldwide in accordance with its specific mandate and the principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (hereafter referred to as “the Movement”).
II. The ICRC’s private sector strategy
Since its inception in 1863, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has traditionally dealt with States. After World War II, the ICRC engaged more and more with non-State bodies such as opposition groups and non-governmental organizations.
With the advent of globalization, the private sector is playing an increasingly prominent role in international relations. In many States affected by internal violence or armed conflict, governments have lost part of their prerogatives while some multinational corporations bear more and more influence on parties to conflicts. The ICRC has adopted a comprehensive strategy to develop its relations with the private sector in a coherent and coordinated fashion with the chief aim of continuing to provide effective protection and assistance to the victims of conflict under these new circumstances.
The two primary areas on which we focus
• The promotion of humanitarian principles and humanitarian dialogue with companies operating in conflict-prone areas.
In this case, the ICRC seeks to establish relations with a company because it has a direct or indirect influence on the situation of war victims. The objective of the ICRC is not to seek any material or financial support. The ICRC approaches companies irrespective of whether their policies and activities are consistent with the “Guiding Principles” below. Those principles do not apply to relations with the private sector established under this first objective.
• Seeking support from the private sector to enhance the ICRC’s capacity to operate efficiently.
The ICRC recognizes that the expertise and financial capacity of the business community can help it achieve its humanitarian objectives. The principles below apply only to relations with companies established under this second heading. The ICRC will only set up partnerships with companies whose policies and activities are consistent with those principles.
The ICRC takes a coherent and principled approach to its engagement with the private sector. Coherence is also an important objective at Movement level, especially when dealing with partnerships that have an international coverage, which may have consequences in conflict-prone countries. Experience shows that in a globalized world, information about partnerships flows instantly across borders and may affect both public opinion and political leaders. Furthermore, multinational corporations make little distinction between the different components of the Movement; they are primarily interested in associating themselves with the Red Cross/Red Crescent “brand”.
III. Guiding Principles
The ICRC’s selection criteria for corporate partners derive from three key sources:
1. The Movement’s principles.
2. The Movement’s Statutes.
3. The specific mandate of the ICRC.
1) The Movement’s principles
Under the principle of humanity, the purpose of the Movement is to “protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being.”
Impartiality dictates that the Movement makes “no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinion.”
Independence requires that the ICRC “shall be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.” Partnerships must not affect the independence of the organization.
Neutrality means that “in order to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of political, racial, religious or ideological nature.”
Universality means that the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is and operates worldwide.
Unity means that there can be only one national Red Cross or Red Crescent Society in any one country, which must be open to all and carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.
The different components of the Movement are all not-for-profit organizations.
2) The Movement’s Statutes
The Statutes of the Movement state in their preamble that the purpose of the Red Cross/Red Crescent is “… to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being (in particular in times of armed conflict and other emergencies), … to work for the prevention of disease and for the promotion of health and social welfare.”
3) The ICRC’s mandate
The ICRC’s specific mandate is to promote international humanitarian law and to protect and assist the victims of conflict. As a result, the ICRC looks in particular at corporate conduct in war-prone areas and at corporate relations with host governments and local communities.
IV. Ethical Criteria
The ICRC’s ethical criteria for corporate partners are inspired by these three key sources. The decision as to whether to establish a relationship is guided by both positive and negative criteria. The decision is taken in three steps, in order of priority:
1. As a matter of absolute priority, the ICRC shall not accept any support from a company if this might endanger the capacity of the organization to carry out its mandate in accordance with the principles above.
2. The ICRC shall seek or accept the support of companies only if their policies and activities do not fundamentally contradict the guiding principles set out above. This criterion addresses the requirement in Article 23 of the Movement’s Regulations on the Use of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Emblem, which stipulates that: “[a business partner] … must in no way be engaged in activities running counter to the Movement’s objectives and Principles or which might be regarded by the public as controversial.”
3. The ICRC shall assess the potential impact of a partnership with a company on its public image and reputation.
Based on the above, the ethical criteria are as follows:
A. The ICRC neither seeks nor accepts support from companies involved in the direct manufacture or sale of arms, or having a majority stake in such companies.
B. The ICRC neither seeks nor accepts support from companies involved in violations of international humanitarian law, based on the information available to the ICRC through its worldwide presence in conflict-prone areas.
C. The ICRC neither seeks nor accepts support from companies that do not respect internationally recognised human rights and fundamental labour standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
D. The ICRC neither seeks nor accepts support from companies whose products are widely recognised as deleterious to health , or against which there are credible allegations of non-observance of widely recognised rules and regulations such as those elaborated under the World Health Organization (WHO).
E. The ICRC looks at whether there are major public controversies linked to the products, policies or activities of a company, based on the reports and assessments provided by professional rating agencies and other information available from credible sources.
The ICRC encourages partnerships with companies that are committed to respecting and promoting the rights and standards above. The ICRC also favours partnerships with firms that adhere to basic principles of sustainable development and ecological management of environmental resources, as well as to those that actively support sustainable development at the operational level.
V. Information sources
Globalization is characterized by mergers, acquisitions and complex portfolio investments that make it impossible for the ICRC to assess the scope of activities and the ethical behaviour of corporations. The ICRC therefore relies on at least two professional, specialized ethical rating agencies, which shall be independent and not-for-profit organisations.
These rating agencies provide the ICRC with a detailed description of companies’ activities and behaviour, such as the breakdown of sales by sector, social and environmental performance, relations with employees and host communities, transparency and disclosure policy, together with issues relating to human rights. The ethical rating agencies also report on past and ongoing public controversies and on efforts by the company to resolve them.
When required, additional data is collected from relevant authoritative international bodies such as the WHO. In order to dispel any remaining doubt, the ICRC also raises issues directly with the company when establishing the dialogue leading to a potential partnership agreement.
VI. Partnership modalities
The principle of independence requires that the arrangements between the ICRC and a company do not give the impression that the ICRC endorses a company, its products, its policies or its services. The ICRC cannot grant formal “exclusivity” to any company in the framework of a partnership.
The ICRC logo is not a trademark, and is not registered as such. Nor is it protected under trademark laws. The ICRC logo embodies the Red Cross emblem, which is protected under international law (the Geneva Conventions). The emblem is primarily an internationally recognised symbol of protection during armed conflicts. Each Movement component is responsible for helping to preserve the emblem’s unique protective power. All agreements with companies must abide by the rules applying to the use of the ICRC logo, as spelled out in the 1991 Movement Regulations on the Use of the Emblem.
Corporate alliances where a company is permitted to use the ICRC name or logo must be put in writing, with the roles and responsibilities of each party clearly laid out. Such agreements shall contain a termination clause for both parties. The ICRC always reserves the right to withdraw from a partnership at short notice if it becomes aware that a corporate partner no longer fulfils the ethical criteria in Section III.
The ICRC has a “Corporate Partnership Cell,” reporting directly to the Director General, whose task it is to review and implement these guidelines. Decisions are taken based on an assessment of the consistency between a company’s policies and practices and the criteria in Section III. In exceptional cases where the Corporate Partnership Cell is unable to make a final recommendation, the issues will be brought to the ICRC’s Assembly Council for final decision.
When dealing with long-term partnerships or in cases where there are major new elements to be taken into account with regard to a corporate partner (e.g. merger or acquisition), the ICRC conducts a review to assess whether or not the corporate partners continue to meet the above criteria, or whether the partnership is to be terminated.