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.



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.




“Dunantist.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 June 2013. Web. 24 June 2013. <>.


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. <>.


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