Category Archives: Assignment 9

Assignment 9: Liberty for Whom?

Wal-Mart is a phenomenon. This multinational corporation has been dominating trade markets internationally. The corporation makes more money than Sweden makes annually and has affected smaller and local businesses. Ironically, their slogan, “Save money, live better,” has many negative consequences including forcing small retail firms out of business and lowering wage standards. All of these are the results of Wal-Mart being a corporation. The purpose of corporations is to maximize their profits. And they will do anything to achieve their goals. Wal-Mart as a humanitarian is another way that will give Wal-Mart benefits and profits. Considering Dutanist principles, Wal-Mart doesn’t meet the criteria especially with neutrality and independence. How can Wal-Mart be neutral when their goal is to maximize their profits? Also by launching compassionate humanitarian plans and partnering with other organizations, Wal-Mart receives extra revenues from donors and those amounts make up the amounts that Wal-Mart spends. If the cost exceeds the benefit for Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart wouldn’t bother with humanitarian projects.

Walmart's 12 days of giving campaign with $1.5 million. What a compassionate corporation! (2013 Walmart net income: $17 billion).

Walmart’s 12 days of giving campaign with $1.5 million. What a compassionate corporation! (2013 Walmart net income: $17 billion).

Among the outcomes of globalization, humanitarianism and neoliberalism play big roles. Hopgood stated that “Neoliberalism seeks the retreat of the state and the expansion of the market in its place.” And “A reduced state means deregulation…An expanded market means more freedom for firms and money in the commercial sphere…” (Hopgood ). The idea of deregulation from the government is closely related to Adam Smith’s market principle and “The invisible hands.” In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith emphasized on laissez-faire and free markets, and efficiency at its best with non-interference (Smith). These ideas have helped explaining the rapid expansion and success of multinational corporations.

Wal-Mart is arguably one of the most influential multinational corporations that directly affect people. In economic and business terms, Wal-Mart has been outstanding but that doesn’t mean they are eligible to be humanitarians. Their mindsets are geared toward profits not charity. In Tanzania, there is Wal-Mart under different name called ‘Game.’ Unlike in many other countries, the Game store (Wal-Mart) is for upper-middle class Tanzanians. Prices in the store are far more expensive than those in street markets. A stick of sugar cane that I used to buy in the street was about five times cheaper than that in the Game store. Wal-Mart claimed that they have created more jobs for locals, but more locals have lost their jobs and business because of Wal-Mart. For example, there are two huge marketplaces near the University, very crowded place. There are two entrances, the main entrance, and the second entrance. The Game store (Wal-Mart) is located near the main entrance and you can’t really find street venues and markets owned by locals. They are out of businesses. On the other hand, there are countless street markets near the second entrance. This phenomenon has resulted geographical discrimination within two areas. They recently built luxurious villas near the main entrance and the second entrance is regarded as the home of poor locals and beggars. The problem is, average people will go to the Game store(Wal-Mart) because they are more convenient and the people are accustomed to the prices that Wal-Mart has set up, without realizing the possible consequences. Wal-Mart’s slogan “Save money, live better” is for whom? For whom the Wal-Mart operates?

Walmart under different name called 'Game' in Tanzania. My friends and I used to call this place as "Bourgy Market."

Walmart under different name called ‘Game’ in Tanzania. My friends and I used to call this place as “Bourgy Market.”

References

“Dunantist.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2013. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunantist>.

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying No to Wal-Mart: : Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarian.” Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008. Print.

Loose, Ashley. “Walmart’s ’12 Days of Giving’ campaign .” abc15.  ( 05 Nov 2012):. Web. <http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/region_phoenix_metro/central_phoenix/Walmarts-12-Days-of-Giving-Facebook-campaign-donates-15-million-to-nonprofit-organizations>.

Smith, Adam, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.” Edwin Cannan, ed. 1904. Library of Economics and Liberty. <http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html>.

 

 

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Wal-mart? A humanitarian?

Wal-mart is one of the largest companies in the United States, playing a substantial role in the nation’s economy. Wal-mart is also widely regarded as one of the worst companies in America. Before this reputation constantly assigned to them, is it possible for Wal-mart to be considered “humanitarian” considering the crucial role in plays in the nations economy? An elemental approach to humanitarianism, stemming from Henry Dunant, factors in four different parts: humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence (Wikipedia contributors). When applying these four parts to how Wal-mart fits into a fairly neo-liberal nation such as the United States, the idea doesn’t seem so radical.

Dr. Arcaro defines neo-liberalism as “the invisible hand of the market [being] what drives the economy” (SOC111). In a perfectly neo-liberal society, the government would have no effect on the region’s economy. There would be no monetary or fiscal policies, absolutely no governmental regulation, and Barack and Mitt would’ve had nothing to debate over; the economy would function completely within the limitations of private organizations (Martinez & Garcia). The United States isn’t completely neo-liberal, though its economy depends more so on private organizations than most other countries in the world. One of these private companies that feed a large portion of the economy is Wal-mart. Wal-mart’s number one consumers are lower-class citizens because of its low priced products. It can be considered as its own form of humanitarian aid because of how it contributes to the economy and helps those less fortunate.

How exactly does Wal-mart help those less fortunate? Findings indicate that counties with a Wal-mart show stronger economic growth and lower unemployment rates (Van Riper). Their low-price model has affected the economy as a whole, upping productivity and competition among other retail stores. All this growth over the years has fit right into the Dunantist model of humanitarianism as well. Wal-mart’s current slogan is “Save money. Live better.” All their products are sold at the expense of the consumer (humanity and impartiality). They haven’t taken sides in any national conflicts to date (neutrality) and are a privately owned company (independence).

Economically, Wal-mart fits into all the categories of Dunantist humanitarianism, so is it safe to call Wal-mart a humanitarian global citizen? No. You don’t earn the title “worst company in America” without a reason. While Wal-mart is often falsely accused of deflating a regions economy and not providing healthcare to the majority of their workers, these aren’t the only reasons it might earn this title. Wal-mart pays their employees unfairly low wages on average and often provides them with poor working conditions. More than just a few times, Wal-mart has known to disrespect its employees based on race and gender discrimination. For example, a number of past and present female employees claim to have been treated worse by being paid and promoted less than their male coworkers.

Wal-mart does a great service to the United States’ economy. It accounts for about six percent of food and retail sales throughout the nation and helps alleviate poverty and create jobs in poorer areas. But it is certainly not to be considered a humanitarian global citizen. Being humanitarian means weighing the outcomes of actions on a global scale, something that Wal-mart doesn’t do. They disrespect the environment as well as their employees, something a true humanitarian organization would try better not to do. After all, a real humanitarian organization should never earn the title of worst company in America. For Wal-mart, economy and efficiency comes first before humanity.

 

Arcaro, Tom. “Neo-liberalism” SOC111. 2013. Lecture.

“Dunantist.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2013. Web.

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying “No” to Wal-Mart?: Money and Mortality in Professional Humanitarianism.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Martinez, Elizabeth, Arnoldo Garcia, and National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “What Is Neoliberalism?” CorpWatch. RadicalDESIGNS, n.d. Web.

Riper, Tom Van. “Wal-Mart Is Good For You.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 1 Oct. 2008. Web.

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A. Nicot – Assignment 9: Walmart

The first thing that should be said and gotten out of the way is that corporations exist for and are to driven to one purpose: money. Walmart may have once been some small local business and then an up and coming chain, but it is today an organization whose size defies understanding. And it has one purpose, as defined by it’s board of directors: maximizing profits. “Walmart” doesn’t care about you or me, they don’t really care about making items more affordable for your average consumer. They perpetuate consumerist society and are the primary beneficent of it (along with many other financial and corporate entities). This is not a criticism, this is a reality.
All entities have purposes – life must survive, kings must rule, and corporations must maximize profit.

The rise of corporations in the realm of humanitarian aid can only be seen in this light. Corporations do not have souls, they aren’t alive, they are incapable as entities of feeling compassion or a sense of human connection with those it funds. Joe Schloe working in accounts may well care, he may well not, and CEO Jack Walmartstein might himself donate large portions of his obscene salary to charitable and humanitarian causes, but Walmart doe not follow the logic of humans in this regard, but the law of financial gain. What do Walmart and other similar actors gain from all this humanitarian effort?

This is not at all a move to gain PR. Not at all.

Firstly, the most obvious one, good PR. A soulless bureaucratic corporate entity seems practically familial if you know it dedicates it’s money to giving those poor children with cleft lips the operations that they keep banging on about, or if they help feed a starving Sudanese village. Doing good in the world. This extends to the concept of corporations sponsoring recent social and political trends to cash in on potential allies: for example video game company EA suddenly supporting the gay rights movement and its associates (laughable due to the obvious PR move by a thoroughly discredited entity). Starbucks has also participated in this sort of game, so it is not beyond the reach of the imagination that a more ambitious foreign humanitarian project is right up Walmart’s alley – if even Pamela Anderson can build schools in Africa, so can Walmart.

Secondly, corporations gain access. As Hopgood writes, “Governments become a source of lucrative contracts for both NGOs and firms,” and Walmart can certainly earn big bucks from governments by doing their job for them – and no doubt they obtain a contract on the side. Not necessarily Walmart though, since it is almost exclusively an American brand, not likely to be found anywhere else. Let’s not even discuss the big bourgeois corporations that supply us with our daily delicacies and our luxuries. Let’s discuss mining corporations, drilling corporations, and so on. Of course, minerals must be mined and oil must be drilled, but typically it is the role of states to mediate such exchanges of resources, but corporate entities bypass this by appealing directly to the government and then doing the same to their “home” government to pass on the benefits of their actions, at a price.

Hopgood also understands the liberal connection – Evidently, since corporations benefit from economic

Globalization in effect – consumers are the actor.

liberalism, they benefit from it’s implementation. Since economic liberalization is both a motor for and the result of globalization, corporations have every reason to support globalization: no tariffs, no barriers to trade, no principle of cultural exception; more consumers, more consumable products, standardization of culture means ease of manufacture, standardization of politics and language means ease of distribution and advertising. This all makes it easier for corporations to fulfill their purpose, profit maximization. Economic liberalism works hand in hand with social and political liberalism, for reasons that would take quite a while to explain – but history has shown they follow and precede each other. Hence why corporations jump on social trends.

So can Walmart or other mega-corporations be humanitarian? No, not really, they are incapable of human thinking and motivation. Can they create humanitarian initiatives and projects along the same lines that states and traditional NGOs can? Yes. Should they? No, due to their motivations. Unless of course you’re fine with their general purpose.

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying “No” to Wal-Mart?” Humanitarianism in Question : Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008. 98-123. Print.

Martinez, Elizabeth, and Arnoldo Garcia. “CorpWatch : What Is Neoliberalism?” CorpWatch : What Is Neoliberalism? CorpWatch, n.d. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=376>.

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Assignment 9

Humanitarianism is often thought of as a selfless devotion to helping others. The Webster dictionary defines a humanitarian as “person promoting human welfare and social reform” (Webster).  Based on these definitions, it seems that to effectively provide humanitarian aid, passion for others is all that is needed.  However, if a group of passionate individuals travel to an area in crisis, they will make little difference without expansive funding and appropriate supplies. The aid industry relies on monetary donations to provide its many services and goods to victims in need. The aid organizations could not effectively function without this money, and this need for funding has created a “humanitarian market”. Aid industries “market” the crises, and often the victims they service, to try and gain more donors. At the same time, corporations such as Wal-Mart have begun to enter the “humanitarian market”. These corporations have realized the functionality of providing humanitarian services because they can market such action to attract more costumers and increase profits. Does this make Wal-Mart equally humanitarian as UNICEF? Should corporations be allowed to enter the humanitarian field of work? I believe that allowing corporations to enter the aid industry will only add to the already prevalent corruption in the field. Donor bias will only be further exploited by the addition of corporation money and aid services. But because the aid industry relies on donor money, can it really afford to completely reject corporate interest in humanitarianism? Right now, no. But I believe if the aid industry undergoes substantial reform, it can function fully without having to please donors, hopefully eliminating donor bias. This way, if Wal-Mart wishes to be a donor or partner with a humanitarian organization, all the better.

 

walmart

A Wal-Mart employee handing out food to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee

 

The aid industry currently suffers from immense corruption, which often results in misuse of funding and ineffective aid. In her book War Games, Linda Polman points out that much of these corruption stems from donor bias. Because aid organizations rely on donations form outside sources, they must market their efforts to receive money. Polman cites the camp for Sierra Leone’s amputees as an example of when donor bias resulted in ineffective aid. Once aid organizations heard about the camp of amputees, hundreds rushed to the scene. They took pictures of victims, specifically children, to send home to gain more funding. Polman explains that MSF France saw the camp as an “endless parade of people trying to capitalize on the publicity value of the amputees” (62). The amputees were easily maretable and received a lot of international attention. As a result, a surplus of donations came, many of which went unused. Polman notes that “artificial limbs were lying all over the camp”, never to be used (66). Meanwhile, other children all over the country were dying of disease and malnutrition. Why didn’t they receive the surplus funding? Westerns were not interested in children dying of disease, as this kind of crisis is prevalent all over the world. But children with missing limbs on the other hand were something new and interesting to the public. In order to function even minimally, aid organizations must adhere to the interests of their donors. This can mean misusing funding and limited the scope of humanitarian services. Corporations, such as Wal-Mart would undoubtedly contribute to this kind of bias. As the main market for Wal-Mart is middle class Americans, the business would send aid to areas of interest to the American public, not necessarily areas of crisis that need it most. However, if the aid industry does not seek reform, this kind of corruption may be unavoidable. In the chapter of Humanitarianism in Question called Saying No to Wal-Mart:  Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarian, Stephen Hopgood points out that victims will not care who their aid comes from. As long as someone is proving food, clean water, and medical services, victims will not care about the motives behind the aid (Hopegood). Hopegood points out a number of shortcomings Wal-Mart has in the humanitarian industry, including lack of passion and inexperience (Hopegood). Does this really matter when Wal-Mart is willing to donate millions of dollars to humanitarian aid? Is it okay to simply reject these donations based on a lack of “humanitarian passion”? With corruption already prevalent in the aid industry, I think it will be hard to dismiss the actions of corporations such as Wal-Mart. Although they will continue the cycle of corruption, I do not believe any humanitarian will reject any donation to service crisis victims, no matter what the motivation of the donation. However, if the entire aid industry is reformed to shift its focus off of donor interests, I believe corporations will be able to successfully partner with aid organizations and could be a wonderful source of funding.

 

In working to reform the aid industry, I believe we need to revisit Dunant’s original principles. These principles include humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence from benefactors and institutional donors (Dunantsit). I believe specific refocus on the last principle is needed to weed out much of the corruption in the aid industry. Current emphasis on gaining funding is ultimately hurting the effectiveness of aid services. Aid organizations must shift their focus from donor interests to victim interests. If this shift can be made, Wal-Mart could be a great donor to aid organizations and even work as an effective partner. This way, the interests of Wal-Mart as a business would have not effect on the distribution of aid. Eliminating donor bias will to the future progress of the aid industry.

 

Sources:

 

“Dunantist.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2013. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunantist>.

 

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying No to Wal-Mart: : Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarian.” Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008. N. pag. Print.

 

“Humanitarian About Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humanitarian>.

 

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Companies That Care?

The era of social media and lightspeed internet have made reputation and image incredibly important in today’s society.  Every instance of misconduct can be broadcast to all of your friends with a click, resulting in a cascade that can cripple a company forever.  Out of this we have seen a rise in corporate social responsibility with corporations like Walmart donating food and water to those in need.  Not everyone is pleased about this increase in aid from major businesses.  In his book titled “Saying ‘No’ to Walmart?  Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarianism” Stephen Hopgood rails against the company saying “aid that simply provides calories for the stomach and water for the throat is a reproduction of people to things…concern for the person entails concern for the whole being, including a person’s state of mind, sense of loss and the devaluation of life (Hopgood, 113).”  He also states that “humanitarianism is about motives, and not simply about outcomes, Walmart could never be humanitarian (Hopgood, 112-113).”  I myself torn by his statements.  On the one hand, I think that the recipients of aid simply do not care what company sent it to them.  If they are dying of thirst and starvation, their desire to live will far outweigh any “devaluation of life”.  I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts it quite eloquently; if you do not have food and security you are unlikely to be worrying about other less basic problems in life.  I do agree with Hopgood’s point about motives.  Walmart is a corporation known for its sexual discrimination, unsafe working conditions and low pay making it very clear that it is minimally concerned about the well being of others (Clark Estes).

This notion that it’s not just the what but the why is key and something that I think can be applied to other areas.  The 2008 financial crisis occurred because of unsustainable banking practices.  Thousands were encouraged to take out loans to buy homes they couldn’t afford.  Wall street knew this was a risk, and they kept on doing it anyway.  This culture of unsustainability is pervasive in western business ideology and is a slowly ticking time bomb.  What gives me hope is that many companies seem to have realized that and moved towards increased corporate social responsibility.  Consider Microsoft, a pioneer in computer and software technologies.  They have numerous programs focusing on improving education and recently raised 1 billion dollars in an employee donation drive (Smith).  Or Google, who recently partnered with law enforcement by setting up a system that automatically identifies, flags and takes down child pornography around the world (Barrett).  These corporations and others like them are dedicated to helping others and maintaining a sustainable business model.

Obviously this kind of aid is different than much of what we have been talking about in this class.  So is it humanitarian?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines humanitarian “as a person promoting human welfare and social reform” (Merriam-Webster).  If that’s the case then I think it goes without saying that these corporations are providing humanitarian aid.  If we could effectively combine the massive wealth of Fortune 500 companies with experienced aid workers I have no doubt that we could make a major difference in the world.  So what if Walmart makes a few more billion?  If it means saving 20,000 lives, I’m all for it.

Works Cited
Barrett, David. “Google Builds New System to Eradicate Child Porn Images from the Web.” Telegraph. Telegraph, 15 June 2013. Web. 25 June 2013.
Clark Estes, Adam. “Wal-Mart’s Labor Rights Headaches Are Adding Up.” The Atlantic Wire. N.p., 2 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 June 2013.
 Hopgood, Stephen.  “Saying ‘No’ to Wal-Mart?  Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarianism.”  Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics.  Ed. Michael N. Barnett and Thomas George Weiss.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.  98-123.  Print.
“HumanitarianAbout Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 June 2013.
Smith, Jacquelyn. “The Companies With the Best CSR Reputations.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 10 Dec. 2012. Web. 25 June 2013.

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Fortune 500 Humanitarian Aid Organizations

Is Wal-Mart a humanitarian aid organization? NO. Wal-Mart is a publicly traded company, which its main objective is to make money to keep their shareholders happy. There are many ways to argue that Wal-Mart is a humanitarian organization or that they are not, but the fact remains very clear. Wal-Marts main objective is to make money.

As we learned in War Games, the humanitarian aid scene is riddled with corruption and there are many organizations that feel as though they can do a better job of using their resources and providing aid. Polman laid out the scheme that many organizations utilize in order to boost their donor revenue, which is the media. The positive media coverage would go a long way in boosting the image of Wal-Mart in the eyes of many. The fact that this image boost could not be done with the same amount of money as they put into their “humanitarian aid” effort is eye opening. For example, they could decide between spending $2 million on a Superbowl commercial and spending $2 million on an aid effort. Which do you think would be more beneficial to the company? Sure they could continue to run that same ad over repeatedly, which would probably cost more money for ad spots, but they would also get repeat exposure from media coverage of the aid effort, for free.

Let’s take another look into this public relations attack to show Wal-Mart as a humanitarian aid organization. None of the other humanitarian aid organizations are set up as publicly traded companies, so there weren’t any financial statements to read through or compare, but let’s look at Wal-Mart’s. From their 2013 annual report, Wal-Mart announced that their charitable donations of cash and in-kind donations surpassed $1 billion. Staggering! When we consider that just two pages prior they just boasted that they were now a $466 billion dollar company, that billion begins to look a lot smaller. In essence, they donated roughly 0.21% of their worth to charity. Yes, that is less than 1%, even less than .25%. Would we consider someone making $100,000 that donates $210 to charity a humanitarian? Hardly.

The fact is that Wal-Mart has found a way to tap the resource of humanitarian aid and use it to boost its image. The $1 billion that they donate should not be downplayed, in any sense, but let’s not get humanitarians confused with a public relations move. A strategic plan to improve their image and protect their brand is not the same as wishing to provide good in the world.

walmart5-final1

Works Cited:

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying “No” to Wal-Mart?: Money and Mortality in Professional Humanitarianism.” N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://graduateinstitute.ch/webdav/site/political_science/shared/political_science/3205/Hopgood-Saying%20No%20to%20Wal-Mart.pdf>.

N.d. Photograph. n.p. Web. 25 Jun 2013. <http://sou.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/walmart5-final1.jpg>.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Wal-Mart. 2013 Annual Report. Investors: Annual Reports. Wal-Mart, 2013. 25 June 2013 <http://az204679.vo.msecnd.net/media/documents/2013-annual-report_130108806067963477.pdf>.

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Humanitarian Motives: Money or Morality?

Henry Dunant is the father of humanitarianism as we know it today, and his ideas served as inspiration for the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.  After witnessing the terrible consequences of war during the Battle of Solferino in the mid-nineteenth century, he became convinced that the nations of the world should come together to form relief organizations to care for wounded war victims.  He was certain that something had to be done, and he didn’t really care who did it or why.   “Any motive would do because action was what mattered, in the here and now, for just this person, no questions asked.”  (Hopgood 101).  Dunant was convinced that the “why” did not matter in humanitarianism, only that something was being done.  I challenge this idea.

Wal-Mart as a humanitarian seems like a ridiculous idea at first glance.  However, many large corporations these days have begun partnering with humanitarian organizations.  They do this to amass moral capital, which will ultimately increase their profit margins.  If consumers view companies as morally involved in the world, they feel better about spending their money there.  These companies provide millions of dollars to humanitarian entities for aid work, so does this make them humanitarians?  Stephen Hopgood asks, “In any given situation, if Wal-Mart can do more for less, should it be resisted because it is Wal-Mart or welcomed because it has come to help?” (Hopgood 121).  These actions can still be good and do good, but they should not be considered humanitarian, as their motives are not purely to help others.

What happens when a corporation partners with a humanitarian organization?  Yes, they receive money, but this money often comes with strings attached.  It results in “major donors wanting to target funds more directly on issues of interest to them and to have more control over how recipients spend the money.” (Hopgood 105).  This interferes with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence.  By providing a certain amount of money, large corporations can basically choose who in the world lives and who dies.  The choice they make is based on what will get the most and best publicity, not who really needs it the most.  More publicity equals a better image for Wal-Mart, which in turn will bring in more customers.  “The dying have a price, their suffering now worth something to Wal-Mart.” (Hopgood 103).

Do large corporations help from the heart or simply from their pockets?  And what is this doing to the humanitarian aid industry?

Do large corporations help from the heart or simply from their pockets? And what is this doing to the humanitarian aid industry?

The money these corporations give humanitarian organizations provides supplies that save lives.  However, is humanitarianism simply a service delivery, or is it something more?  I believe that in order to truly help someone through hardship, relationships must be built, and each person must know that the other cares for them.  Paying attention to the real person receiving the aid, instead of viewing them as a mouth to feed, is crucial.  “Aid that simply provides calories for the stomach and water for the throat is a reduction of people to things…” (Vaux, Hopgood 113).  Aid workers must care for the person, not simply the provision of aid goods.  Hopgood says that aid “must be done properly for one hundred people rather than slightly less than properly for 150.” (Hopgood 121).  This can only be done through paying attention to individuals’ needs- not handing them a milk carton and calling it a day.  Providing survival needs such as food, water, and shelter is a good thing to do, and corporations should not be ashamed of this.  However, this is not humanitarian, as they are not primarily concerned with people.

Oxfam has a six-point strategy through which they aim to fight poverty.  One side of Oxfam’s strategy to end poverty is to fight gender injustice.  This is more than sending money- this is working together with people on the ground to affect real change.  By simply providing lots of money, corporations cannot provide these kind of person-to-person relationships, and therefore cannot be as effective of humanitarians.

Relationship building is the foundation of humanitarian aid

Relationship building is the foundation of humanitarian aid

What is the point of humanitarian aid?  Is it simply to provide those in need with supplies necessary for survival?  Stephen Hopgood argues, “It seems that humanitarianism is about solidarity with suffering, rather than a simple meeting of needs.” (Hopgood 113).  If this is what the essence of humanitarianism is, can Wal-Mart or other multi-national corporations become humanitarians?  No.  I don’t think that treating people in need like they are mouths to feed, as well as using their suffering as a platform from which to better your own image, is humanitarian.  Money from corporations can help meet needs, but it does not make that corporation a humanitarian.

However, I do understand the dilemma that humanitarian organizations face: turn down money that could do good to stand on principle, or take the money and use it to help people in need.  If we begin letting companies whose focus is profit, not aid, into the humanitarian sector, I believe the aid system will eventually unravel.  Being backed by a corporate entity will turn aid organizations’ motives from humanitarian to economic.  “When an organization’s survival depends on making strategic choices in a market environment characterized by uncertainty, its interests will be shaped, often unintentionally, by material incentives.” (Cooley and Ron, Hopgood 105).

Humanitarians must be motivated by a desire to help those in need.  “There is, in other words, something about ‘humanitarianism’ that requires a certain kind of motivation… It means acting in some sense because of the suffering.” (Hopgood 102).  I don’t believe that Wal-Mart or any other corporation’s involvement in the humanitarian sector can be considered humanitarian.  They are driven by money, not mission.  Making the choice to refuse large sums of money from corporations is difficult, and many will be outraged.  However, I believe that this is the only way to ensure that people in need receive the help and care they deserve.  Humanitarian endeavors must be inspired by humanitarian motives.

 

Works Cited

 

Blackwell, David. “Big Corporate Discovers the Humanitarian Crisis in Somalia.” Flickr. Flickr, 27 Aug. 2011. Web. 25 June 2013. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilestreetlife/6083457519/>.

“Celebrating Older Aid Workers on World Humanitarian Day.” HelpAge International. HelpAge International, 19 Aug. 2010. Web. 25 June 2013. <http://www.helpage.org/newsroom/latest-news/celebrating-older-aid-workers-on-world-humanitarian-day/>.

“Henry Dunant – Biographical”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 25 Jun 2013. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1901/dunant-bio.html>

Hopgood, Stephen.  “Saying ‘No’ to Wal-Mart?  Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarianism.”  Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics.  Ed. Michael N. Barnett and Thomas George Weiss.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008.  98-123.  Print.

“How We Fight Poverty.” Oxfam International. Oxfam International, n.d. Web. 25 June 2013. <http://www.oxfam.org/en/about/how-oxfam-fights-poverty>.

 

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Corporations Can Contribute Positively

Over the past few decades, the humanitarian aid community has seen the number of corporations contributing to their efforts increase exponentially. A field that was once populated almost exclusively by independent groups such as Oxfam and Medecins San Frontieres now finds themselves working alongside, and even competing with, massive corporations such as Wal-Mart.

The surge of Neoliberalism that has taken over the United States economic system threatens humanitarian aid efforts for a number of reasons. The most unfortunate, and dangerous threat comes with the increasingly common attitude of arrogance and indifference towards the have-nots of the U.S. population, and those abroad.

Elizabeth Martinez, a civil rights activist, discusses this issue in her article “What is Neoliberalism?” She says that there has been a systematic elimination of “the concept of the ‘public good’ or ‘community’”(Martinez) This focus instead on, “individual responsibility,” means that the “poorest people in a society” are pressured, “to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves” and then are blamed if they fail. (Martinez)

This indifference may have reached its breaking point however. Today, many companies find themselves under fire for having their all-consuming concern be the maximization of profit at all costs. In order to counteract this negative image, and respond to the backlash from their consumer base, many companies have intentionally created very conspicuous humanitarian sectors within their corporations, to distribute aid in a very effective and visible manner.

These companies hope that their humanitarian efforts will convince their consumers that they care about something other than increasing revenue. Even if these efforts are conducted under false pretenses, and their motivations aren’t necessarily the purest, should their aid be refused?

In Stephen Hopgood’s book, “Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics” he writes, “The dying have a price, their suffering is now worth something to Wal-Mart. Andthis makes them the lucky ones, for they are now the objects of strategies of accumulation. Do the dying care, in extremis, who feeds or bandages them, or why, or whether that person has a Wal-Mart logo on her vest? Do we have the right to consign thousands of people to an avoidable death on principle?” (Hopgood)

Though large corporations might be involved in the aid effort for the wrong reasons, so long as they are contributing in a competent and responsible manner, then why not let them pour millions of dollars into aid campaigns? Corporations have the capability to allocate huge resources to disaster areas, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina where Wal-Mart, “Immediately gave $20 million in cash, one hundred truckloads of free goods, and food for one hundred thousand people.” (Hopgood) Even though there were many critics who argued that, “Wal-Mart’s corporate giving, including that for Hurricane Katrina, was a calculated effort to improve its image after a barrage of negative stories,” no one could deny the overwhelming positive effect that their donations had on the situation. (Hopgood)

Wal-Mart responded to Katrina immediately by sending millions of dollars in aid and free access to their shipping resources. With such positive results, why should corporations not be allowed to support aid efforts?

Wal-Mart responded to Hurricane Katrina by immediately sending millions of dollars in aid and one hundred truck loads of free goods, as seen above.  With such positive results, why should corporations be frowned upon for their aid efforts?

To further this point, think for a moment about Henry Dunant, inspiration for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the four fundamental principles that he believed humanitarian aid efforts should always uphold.  The first is to “alleviate human suffering wherever it is found” something that Wal-Mart and other corporations have proven they can do very effectively with the huge sums of money they have at their disposal. (Dunant)

The next two principles, neutrality and impartiality, are concerns of any humanitarian aid effort, and so long as military assistance is not given, and the aid reaches all genders and races equally, then corporations will have no more a problem fulfilling those requirements than NGOs do.

Only the last principle, “independence”, raises some concern. Although Dunant believed that aid should be free of, “benefactors” save for the victims themselves, I would argue that large corporations such as Wal-Mart are not benefactors in the true sense of the word. (Dunant)

Although their aid efforts may recast the company in a more positive light, that is a relatively harmless side effect. So long as these corporations uphold the same policies of neutrality and impartiality that are expected of NGOs, then upholding a commitment to independence should inevitably follow suit.

The theory of Utilitarianism is in its most basic form, is that “the aim of action should be the largest possible balance of pleasure over pain” and whichever decision achieves the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” should be pursued. By embracing the inevitability of corporations becoming involved in the global humanitarian aid effort, we in turn can save countless more lives through the addition of new funding. Therefore, the potential positive effect that these large corporations could have, greatly outweigh the negative effects of the otherwise ethically questionable use of humanitarian aid donations as a sort of public relations stunt.

Regardless of the motivations of the donors, so long as wounds are being treated, children are being fed, and the responsibilities that come with wielding great power are being upheld – then benevolence should never be refused.

 

Works Cited:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utilitarianism

Dunant, Henry. The International Committee of The Red Cross. “Four Founding Principles”

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying No to Wal-Mart: Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarianism. June 25, 2013. http://graduateinstitute.ch/webdav/site/political_science/shared/political_science/3205/Hopgood-Saying%20No%20to%20Wal-Mart.pdf

 

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Wal-Mart… The Humanitarian?

Wal-Mart is a polarizing organization; it employs over 1.4 million people in the US (about 1% of the US population), but unfair labor practices have hurt their reputation.  Wal-Mart has made headlines for failing to pay overtime wages, locking nighttime employees in the store and opposing unionization of their workforce (Hsu).  How could this company be considered humanitarian if it doesn’t even treat its own employees well?  Like the other essays we have written, the answer isn’t laying on the surface.

What does it mean to be a humanitarian? David Rieff writes,

There is the humanitarian as noble caregiver, as dupe of power, as designated conscience, as revolutionary, as colonialist, as businessman, and perhaps even as mirror. There is humanitarianism as caring, as in Rwanda; humanitarianism as emancipation, as in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban; humanitarianism as liberation, as in the case of humanitarian support for the rebels of Southern Sudan; and humanitarian-ism as counterinsurgency, as it was in Vietnam and may yet be again in Afghanistan. All are possible; all have been true at times over the course of the past four decades. (Hopgood)

Humanitarianism is difficult to define because the very idea of humanitarian behavior has rapidly changed over the past decades.  Like good and evil, many people don’t agree on what being a humanitarian means today.  Was the US intervention in Iraq’s attack on Kuwait humanitarian? What about the recent Iraq War?  Personally, I believe being a humanitarian means helping others even if it is not in your best interest.

 

Stephen Hopgood writes that Wal-Mart is a bastion of neo-liberalism and is awful for the already underprivileged.  He notes, “…justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom; medieval Christian scholars added faith, hope, and charity. The virtues are to be admired and promoted as worthy of cultivation for their own sake. We admire, and esteem, people who manifest these virtues. Wal-Mart’s self-interested utilitarianism, as with that of type-2 technicians, has none of these virtues to it at all, and should be discouraged as mean-spirited and not worthy of respect” (Hopgood). While I understand his point, I don’t entirely agree with it.  Wal-Mart absolutely has a duty to treat its employees fairly; in this age of 24-hour media and social responsibility they ought to treat their employees beyond the bare minimum.  There is no question Wal-Mart has failed this test repeatedly in the past.  Wal-Mart is a publicly traded company, so its best interests are those that increase the value of the company and therefore the value their stockholders’ investments.  Hopgood writes that the company lacks many noteworthy virtues, but he doesn’t adequately address that Wal-Mart still pays the above the government set minimum wage and provides over 1.4 million jobs to US workers.  Wal-Mart’s low prices benefit low-wage earners the most (those most likely to qualify for government assistance).  The lowered food prices and other necessities enable shoppers to extend the value of their dollar.  However, none of these points can be irrefutably traced to acting in their consumer’s best interest.  Conversely, these prices were set to increase market share and volume sold, which in turn gives the company power over suppliers.

walmart

I don’t believe Wal-Mart is a humanitarian organization.  They have low prices, employ a large number of people and donate to charity, but none of these are because the company is acting in another’s best interest.  Wal-Mart is a publicly traded company; their duty is to shareholders.  If donating to charity increases their goodwill then they will do it to benefit the company first.  The broader question is “can corporations be humanitarians?”  I say they can be.  It would be easier for a privately run corporation that doesn’t have to answer to shareholders, but these organizations aren’t inherently incapable of being humanitarian.  Money donated to an INGO is the same for an individual or a corporation, but the motive behind the dollar is what currently separates the two.

 

Hopgood, Steven.   “Saying “No” to Wal-Mart? Money and Morality in Professional Humanitarianism”.  Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. 2008. Print.

 

Hsu, Tiffany. Two Activist Groups Accuse Wal-Mart of Unfair Labor Practices. The Los Angeles Times.  May 23, 2013. Web. June 25, 2013.

 

Klein, Ezra.  Has Wal-Mart Been Good or Bad? The Washington Post. Novemeber 24, 2012. Web. June 25, 2013.

 

Martinez, Elizabath and Garcia, Arnoldo.  What is Neoliberalism? A Brief Definition for Activists. National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Web.

 

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Assignment 9

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Large companies and corporations are starting to become more and more involved with humanitarian aid, at least by their standards. Multi-billion dollar companies, such as Wal Mart, are on the rise as a new “humanitarian,” which by definition, is a person promoting human welfare and social reform (Merriam-Webster). Obviously Walmart is not a person but the actions the company is taking could be seen as very similar to that of a humanitarian. The article Saying “No” to Wal Mart highlights reasons why Walmart should not be considered a “humanitarian,” though I am not entirely convinced by this. I do  agree with Stephen Hopgood’s points and research in his article; however, I do believe that if Walmart were to  have ulterior motives in their reason for providing food, clothing, medicine, etc. to people in need, then they could definitely be seen as humanitarian. But as concluded from the article, Walmart is more concerned about making a profit and not as concerned about the lives of the people they are providing basic necessities to. Also, the article flat out says that “if humanitarianism is about motives, and not simply about outcomes, Walmart could never be humanitarian (Hopgood, 112-113).” This reinforces my opinion that if Walmart’s motives behind providing aid were different then they might actually be seen as humanitarian.

In Saying “No” to Wal Mart, it is mentioned that “Walmart can clearly save lives and alleviate suffering (Hopgood, 102).” I would agree because Walmart can offer the basic necessities one needs to survive, such as food, clothing and medicine. But the article goes on to say that Walmart is just giving these items to people for their own benefit and profit, which I mentioned in the first paragraph. The article also makes a really powerful point in saying, “aid that simply provides calories for the stomach and water for the throat is a reproduction of people to things…concern for the person entails concern for the whole being, including a person’s state of mind, sense of loss and the devaluation of life (Hopgood, 113).” I think this statement is probably one of the most important in the whole article. When Walmart sends aid and supplies to countries where people are suffering, they are not thinking about the people as human beings. I believe that they are sending this aid because they feel like it’s the right thing to do because they have so much money and many resources that these people need. I wonder if they are even doing it because they want to and because they know that they are helping people in need? From my observation of Saying “No” to Wal Mart, I would guess that the company is not concerned with the actual lives of the people in need or the losses they have.

If you go to Walmart’s main website, you can find a link titled “Global Responsibility.” http://corporate.walmart.com/global-responsibility/ On this page, it mentions that Walmart believes they “have an opportunity and a responsibility to make a difference on the big issues that matter to us all. Issues like preserving the environment, fighting hunger, empowering women and providing access to healthy, affordable food (Walmart.com).” By writing a couple short paragraphs and posting them online about its obligation to do good for the world, Walmart makes themselves look better to the public. But again, they say that they think they have a responsibility to make a difference, it doesn’t say anything about why or how they will be helping people not be hungry anymore, as just one example. It seems that a lot of thought wasn’t put into writing these couple paragraphs and it almost feels generic when reading. There doesn’t seem to be any real emotions behind the writing, just simply saying they have a responsibility to try and change the world. This page on the website also says that Walmart is driving the change like no other company can and so on, but again they aren’t providing any examples which makes me feel that it is simply something generic to make their company look good.

Although Stephen Hopgood in Saying “No” to Wal Mart points out why this company should not be considered a “humanitarian,” if you look at Henry Dunant’s principles and approach to humanitarianism, one could argue that Hopgood is wrong. Henry Dunant was a man who inspired the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (Wikipedia). According to his “Dunantist” principles, which are a traditional approach to humanitarianism, there are four fundamental principles that comprise what being humanitarian means (Wikipedia). They are humanity, to alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found; neutrality, do not take sides in a conflict; impartiality, aid should be based on needs alone, regardless of race, class, gender and sex; and independence from benefactors and institutional donors (Wikipedia). According to these four principles,  Walmart could  in fact be considered “humanitarian.” These principles do not mention anything about motives or reasoning behind providing aid, which is the complete opposite of what Stephen Hopgood talked about in Saying “No” to Wal Mart. As far as viewing Walmart as “humanitarian,” I think it is an opinion left to the individual. I do not think it is a yes or no question by any means.

In conclusion, I would agree more with Stephen Hopgood in his article Saying “No” to Wal Mart, as opposed to Henry Dunant’s principles. When I think of someone being considered humanitarian, I think more of how that person feels and why they are choosing to help people in need. This goes back to Hopgood’s point about motives behind why one sacrifices their time and efforts to help others. If Walmart were to simply have a motive behind what they do and stop caring about making a profit and actually care about the people they are helping and everything they have been through, I think they could definitely be considered humanitarian. But that leads to the puzzling question “will Walmart abandon humanitarian aid when profits dry up (Hopgood)?” No one knows for sure and the only way to find out is if the company’s profits ever do dry up. If this were to happen, that would be the true test of the company’s reason for providing aid. Was it just to make money all along like most people think? Or were they really doing it out of the good of their hearts?

References:

Hopgood, Stephen. “Saying “No” to Wal Mart.” Graduate Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://graduateinstitute.ch/webdav/site/political_science/shared/political_science/3205/Hopgood-Saying%20No%20to%20Wal-Mart.pdf>.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, n.d. Web. 24 June 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humanitarian>.
“Dunantist.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunantist>.
“Walmart’s “Live Better” Initiatives Are Making a Differenec.” Global Responsibility. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., n.d. Web. 25 June 2013. <http://corporate.walmart.com/global-responsibility/>.
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