Ethical principles guiding the ICRC's partnerships with the private sector

01 March 2018

The aim of these principles is to establish a transparent framework for relationships between the private sector and the ICRC.


I. Purpose

The aim of these principles is to establish a transparent framework for relationships between the private sector and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Relationships with the private sector encompass all forms of support by companies, corporate- and private foundations, and wealthy individual donors. Support can range from donations and campaigns to operational collaborations and joint innovation.
An operational partnership is established only if it strengthens 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

The ICRC has adopted a comprehensive strategy to strengthen and develop its relationships with the private sector, in order to support its mandate to protect and assist people affected by violence and conflict.

The ICRC’s engagement with the private sector focuses on two primary areas:

1. Seeking collaboration with the private sector to enhance the ICRC's capacity to operate efficiently and meet humanitarian needs.

The ICRC recognizes that the expertise and financial capacity of the business and philanthropic community can help it achieve its humanitarian objectives. The avenues for collaboration and value generation with the private sector are captured by five pillars of engagement:

  • Promoting best practices and shared analyses
  • Driving innovation and testing new business models and solutions
  • Leveraging complementarity, assets, networks, and skills
  • Collaborating with suppliers
  • Mobilizing resources through impact philanthropy

The ethical criteria and guiding principles below apply exclusively to relations with the private sector in this first domain. The ICRC will only accept support from partners whose policies and activities are consistent with these principles.

2. The promotion of humanitarian principles and humanitarian dialogue with companies operating in conflict-prone areas.

The ICRC seeks to establish relationships with some corporate actors because they may have direct or indirect influence on the lives of people affected by situations of violence and conflict. The objective of the ICRC in these cases is not to seek support, but to promote and generate respect for humanitarian principles. The ICRC approaches these companies irrespective of whether their policies and activities are consistent with the ethical criteria and guiding principles below.

III. Guiding principles

The ICRC's selection criteria for private sector 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 opinions."

Independence requires that National Societies "must maintain their autonomy so that they may 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.

III. 1 Ethical criteria

The ICRC's ethical criteria for corporate partners are inspired by these three key sources, and were first established in 2002. These ethical principles are further elaborated in the ‘ICRC Guidelines for Screening Private Donors and Partners’ from 2016, which define thresholds for engagement and expand the scope to include relationships with foundations and private individuals.

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, foundation, or individual 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, foundations or individuals only if their policies and / or 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, foundation or individual on its public image and reputation.

These steps are fundamental to ensuring compliance with the ICRC’s ethical principles, which are set out below. Though they refer to companies, they serve as the basis for all engagement with the private sector, including with foundations and individual donors.

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.

In addition, the 2016 ‘ICRC Guidelines for Screening Private Donors and Partners’ specify that the ICRC applies special consideration to socially sensitive industries, prohibiting it from accepting support from individuals, foundations and companies whose core business is linked to pornography and gambling in particular.

The ICRC encourages partnerships with private entities 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.

For a more detailed overview of the ICRC’s approach to screening private donors and partners: including thresholds, sources of information and the decision-making process, please refer to the enclosed document ‘ICRC Guidelines for Screening Private Donors and Partners’.

VI. Implementation  

To ensure consistent implementation of these principles, the ICRC has established a dedicated screening process to decide on whether or not to accept potential private sector partnerships or donations. Decisions are taken based on an assessment of the consistency between a private entity’s policies and practices and the criteria in Section III.

The screening process involves a range of functions and units across the ICRC. It will typically include input from:

  • An ICRC country or regional delegation
  • The relevant technical unit
  • Senior members of the Resource mobilization division
  • Legal counsel
  • The director of financial resources and logistics
  • Communications and information management, Operations, the organization’s economic advisor and other members of the ICRC

An Internal Review Committee, led by the director of financial resources and logistics, meets regularly to approve or reject potential partnerships, and to monitor existing partnerships. In exceptional cases where the Review Committee is unable to make a final recommendation, cases may be referred to the Director General for a decision.

The ICRC also regularly re-evaluates existing partnerships with regard to the above criteria, to take account of possible changes that could affect the ICRC’s reputation and ability to operate (e.g. new company policies, unexpected developments/controversies). To this end, The ICRC has established a monitoring process to proactively review and assess partners.

For more detailed information on the steps and nature of the monitoring process, please refer to the enclosed document ‘ICRC guidelines for screening private donors and partners.’



Ethical principles guiding the ICRC's partnerships with the private sector. 2002

ICRC guidelines for screening private donors and partners