The interaction between humanitarian non-governmental organisations and extractive industries: a perspective from Médecins Sans Frontières

30 September 2012 Philippe Calain

This opinion note explores some aspects of the relationship between humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and extractive industries. Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders, MSF) has endorsed a policy of non-engagement with the corporate sector of the extractive industries, particularly when it comes to financial donations. This is coherent with MSF being first and foremost a medical organisation, and one that adheres to the humanitarian principles of independence and neutrality. For humanitarian actors, the prospect of future environmental disasters and environmental conflicts calls for the anticipation of novel encounters, not only with environmental organisations but also with the extractive sector. Unlike environmental organisations, extractive industries are prone to generating or perpetuating different forms of violence, often putting extractive companies on a par with the parties to armed conflicts. In situations where a dialogue with extractive companies would be needed to optimise care and access to victims, humanitarian organisations should carefully weigh pragmatic considerations against the risk of being co-opted as medical providers of mitigation measures.

Keywords: MSF, extractive industries, armed conflict, corporate social responsibility, local communities, neutrality, conflicts of interest.

About the author

Philippe Calain
Senior Researcher at the Research Unit on Humanitarian Stakes and Practices

Philippe Calain is a Senior Researcher at the Research Unit on Humanitarian Stakes and Practices, based in the Swiss section of Médecins sans Frontières. Trained as a medical doctor and a specialist in infectious diseases and tropical medicine, he has over ten years of experience in international public health. His current research interests include public health ethics, research ethics, the ethics of humanitarian assistance, and the humanitarian consequences of extractive industries.

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