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The private sector: humanitarian responsibilities in war zones


The ICRC's dialogue with the private sector on humanitarian issues.

The States party to the Geneva Conventions have mandated the ICRC to protect and assist people affected by armed conflict and to promote international humanitarian law. To fulfil its mandate, the ICRC seeks constructive dialogue with all States and non-State bodies that are involved in armed conflicts or could influence them.

This is why the ICRC engages with business. The main objective of dialogue with companies is to help them understand their rights and meet their obligations under international humanitarian law. The ICRC also wants to help businesses fulfil the commitments relating to international humanitarian law that they have entered into under various initiatives.

We believe that we can help companies translate their stated willingness to respect basic humanitarian standards into operational reality. Our objective is not to propose yet another code of conduct, but to promote fundamental humanitarian principles. We seek to develop a constructive dialogue based on concrete humanitarian concerns, with a view to raising companies’ awareness of the issues involved. The aim is to achieve greater respect for international humanitarian law and enhanced protection for companies’ most valuable assets, namely their employees and their reputations.

It is not the role of the ICRC to pass judgement on the groups that it has traditionally dealt with, such as armed groups, government officials or opinion leaders. Likewise, it is not our role to categorize private companies as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. For the ICRC, the aim of constructive engagement with the business community is to provide enhanced protection and assistance to war victims.

In its dialogue with businesses, the ICRC:

  • emphasizes the practical implications of humanitarian law in specific contexts;

  • raises awareness among managers of specific humanitarian concerns that we have on the ground;

  • exchanges information on matters of mutual interest, such as humanitarian, security and health issues, particularly with regard to staff working under difficult conditions.

A number of multilateral initiatives exist to promote respect for human rights and/or international humanitarian law, or to mitigate the social impact of business projects. Because such initiatives can have an effect on situations of armed conflict, the ICRC is monitoring them carefully. Specifically, the ICRC has played the role of observer participant in the process leading to the adoption and promotion of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights , the only initiative resulting in guidance that expressly refers to international humanitarian law.  

For more information, please contact the ICRC's coordination office for private sector relations:  

 Claude Voillat  

Economic Advisor

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

19 Avenue de la Paix

1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Phone: + 41 22 730 2616



 See also:  


ICRC addresses country by country
ICRC activities country by country  

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