FOCUS ON – Private sector partnerships that do not compromise our ethics as humanitarian actors

Posted by: on Nov 30, 2016 | No Comments

For VOICE’s 24th newsletter, Amandine Rave, Handicap International Foundation’s Ethical and Policy Analyst, shared some thoughts on private sector partnerships, NGO funding and ethics, highlighting how Handicap International’s ethical evaluation of its fund-providing private partners contributes to its independence.



Handicap International is one of the eighty-five members of VOICE (Voluntary Organizations in Cooperation in Emergencies), a network of European NGOs championing humanitarian principles and involved in furthering the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian action.

For VOICE’s 24th newsletter, Amandine Rave, Handicap International Foundation’s Ethical and Policy Analyst, shared her thoughts on private sector partnerships, NGO financing and ethics.

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For many years, and again just recently at the World Humanitarian Summit, United Nations agencies and NGOs have been examining the role that the private sector can play in funding humanitarian response. Albeit in constant evolution, the role of corporations in this regard is undeniable, and is now frequently built-in through corporate and social responsibility (CSR). Like other NGOs, Handicap International collaborates with the private sector, but not at any price. The ethics of the corporations funding Handicap International’s activities are of permanent concern to the organization, which has decided to go beyond basic statements of intent from its fund-providing corporations. This is a task that Handicap International has been tackling for more than ten years, through observation of peer practices and in relation to our mandate. As a result of this continuous process, criteria, methodology and tools have been elaborated to evaluate corporations in light of our ethical criteria.

Handicap International uses several levels of analysis to evaluate the ethics of its private partners. The first corresponds to exclusionary sectors for areas of activity that are in obvious contradiction with our field objectives: weapons, alcohol, tobacco, investment in anti-personnel mine and cluster munitions manufacture. Corporations with activities in these areas are automatically excluded from any partnership. The second level of analysis, applied to all other areas of activity, consists in gauging corporations against elaborated ethical criteria (violations of human rights and basic labor rights, predatory or illicit business practices, active contribution to a conflict, environmental degradation, corporation and corporation executive reputation, etc.), as well as acknowledging positive corporate practices (e.g. CSR policy, involvement in international aid and development).

Via this criteria analysis process, color codes are attributed to corporations based upon their practices: “green” if, by and large, the corporation fulfills Handicap International‘s ethical criteria, “red” when this is not the case and “orange” when going ahead with the partnership must be made conditional to a heightened level of vigilance in specific areas. For instance, this might apply in the case of a pharmaceutical group which approaches us to fund projects with an “access to treatment” component in a country where the corporation is not established. Let’s imagine the company is free from any scandal or court case and develops good practices (e.g. generic medication development or preferential tariff policies for developing countries). The company therefore fulfills Handicap International‘s ethical criteria. However, Handicap International would be particularly attentive not to serve as a vehicle for the corporation’s commercial establishment in that country, by directing its funds either towards domains other than health, or towards other geographical areas. This is a matter of preserving Handicap International’s freedom of choice and action in the countries where we work, and of avoiding the use of our projects towards business-oriented ends.

Ethical evaluation is a team effort that mobilizes the whole of Handicap International’s international network. Handicap International Foundation, which provides a framework on political and ethical positioning issues, is the underlying point of reference and defines the criteria, trains the teams and issues recommendations in complex cases. The teams responsible for private fundraising in the countries where Handicap International works also undertake ethical evaluation at their level, using a common methodology and shared sources. The resulting data is made entirely available internally via a database that has compiled over six hundred corporate analyses to date. We continuously re-evaluate our ethical recommendations, which are only valid for a specified period of time, and regularly re-question our criteria. Indeed, Handicap International recently performed an analysis of the criteria used to evaluate private sector partners, via a benchmark involving approximately forty NGOs from different countries. The benchmark[1] showed that ethical evaluation of private financial partners is an area of true concern for NGOs. Corporations are in a process of evolution driven by the obligations befalling them in terms of CSR, and the role that they wish to play on the humanitarian scene. Evolving criteria accordingly is essential. In any event, the corporations with which Handicap International collaborates are selected neither randomly nor out of mere financial opportunism, but specifically because they meet our ethical values.


Amandine Rave

Handicap International Foundation’s Ethical and Policy Analyst


[1] Available upon request.


This article was originally published in VOICE out loud Issue n°24.