Companies attending a session on private sector involvement in emergency relief during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, considered draft "Guiding Principles" developed by the WEF and humanitarian agencies. Margareta Wahlström, acting UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who attended the Davos sessions, said the guiding principles had been developed in consultation with the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC), a global humanitarian policy body including the UN, nongovernmental organisations and the Red Cross Movement.
The principles, which draw on codes of conduct developed by the IASC, insist that corporations involved in humanitarian relief should coordinate with mainstream humanitarian actors, distinguish commercial from philanthropic operations, be accurate and truthful in public relations activities, train standby staff in humanitarian principles and be clear about the real value of their contributions. Corporations are also being urged to consider cash donations to humanitarian relief, including through the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF), even though big business generally contributes in-kind goods and services in emergencies.
The WEF annual meeting from 24-28 January brought together 2,400 participants, of whom 800 were company executives, to consider the pressing issues of the day. Companies want to provide expertise relevant to humanitarian crises and are becoming increasingly engaged with humanitarian professionals, Wahlström said. Some partnerships are already providing valuable additional capacity to relief operations, she added. The logistics giant DHL has developed capacity to ease airport logistics in crises while telecommunications firm Vodafone has supported the NGO Telecoms Sans Frontières in field-based emergency communications. Over the coming year, more partnerships will develop, and more examples of good practice will be collected and reviewed.
Companies are responding to pressure from employees and communities to make a social contribution and "be relevant". But they also need to proceed carefully, given a very high degree of risk to their positive image if they mishandle philanthropic work, Wahlström said.
The Humanitarian Relief Initiative (HRI) of the WEF was launched a year ago to “develop public-private partnerships (PPPs) that match the core competencies of the private sector with the priority needs of the global humanitarian community in advance of humanitarian crises". The emphasis of the initiative is on better preparedness and clear terms of engagement for the private sector in the event of crisis. Sessions on climate change at Davos also considered the increasing threat of natural disasters; a separate sub-group of the WEF, the Disaster Resource Network, concentrates on natural disaster response and disaster risk reduction.
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