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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