Ethics in international funding

Ethics in international funding

Historically speaking, internationalisation has been linked to commerce, but the advent of trade predates international trade, as we know it today. To this end, it is interesting to note how, right from the very beginning, the spread of rules and customs often took on a near sacred character in order to prevent commerce from deteriorating into mere robbery.

Economic theories on international commerce deal with the issue of justice in different ways. For instance, the mercantilists believed that the function of trade was to accumulate wealth in gold, essential in order to exercise political and economic power. The classical theorists (beginning with Ricardo, later by Heckscher-Ohlin and including more recent contributions – Onida 1984) emphasized the positive effect of trade. They asserted that elements and resources are allocated differently, and developing them efficiently requires specialized production processes and, therefore, trade. In the post-war period, Marxist thought gave rise to a particularly animated debate, especially in Latin America. The essence of this was that trade is an ‘unequal exchange’ between rich and poor countries, the source of appropriation of surplus amounts which is generated by the exploitation of entire populations.

The debate used to be carried out along fairly clear guidelines. However, given the complex articulated world in which we live today and with the advent of globalisation, the issues of justice and ethics within international relations can no longer be dealt with in such a straightforward manner. In particular, and to an increasingly large extent, international relations do not only involve the exchange of ‘opposite’ goods, that is to say raw materials in exchange for finished products.

It is the very widespread nature, complexity and dynamics of current internationalisation trends that make it necessary to establish a concise concept that could take into account all the economic and non-economic aspects of globalisation. In this regard, the most suitable concept in order to measure ethics might be development, signified by growth in human and social capital, and as overall sustainability. How internationalisation/globalisation can be combined with development is the most interesting ethical issue.

The market, but more generally the various internationalisation environment elements, is the result of a human social construct with defined fundamental rules that govern economic actions and must be recognized by people. It is a cultural institution similar to the social anthropological concept. This form of social construct is especially evident with respect to the more complex aspects of globalization. For instance, choosing a joint venture as the basis of an undertaking implies diverse dynamic relations (with governments, potential partners, consumers and so on), which make every transaction unique.

The idea of justice as not being merely distributive has roots in this framework. Consequently, resources are seen as just one data element and the matter is played out in an attempt to gain an increasingly large ‘slice of cake’. It is clear that the true challenge lies in the creation of wealth in the service of a vision that views people and their needs as its focal point. Therefore, the time of struggles against unfair trade has come to an end – the era of concerted action for development has started.

Ethics for international NGO’s

Corruption is a sensitive issue in the NGO world. Humanitarian actors need to understand what corruption is, recognise the forms it can take in humanitarian response, determine its true scale and better understand the conditions which lead to it. They also need to identify what mechanisms need to be put in place or strengthened to guard against corruption, even in the most difficult contexts. Mitigating against corruption is necessary if NGOs are to achieve both operational efficiency and accountability to their stakeholders. However, it is also important to recognise that adopting a proactive and transparent approach to dealing with corruption may involve short-term risks to an NGO’s reputation.

The number of NGOs has grown exponentially over the last 20 years, as has the scale of resources available. In 2010, it was estimated that humanitarian spending reached just shy of $17 billion.+  Some NGOs have become transnational, with very large budgets. One American NGO, World Vision International, has a budget topping $2.6bn.

NGOs are often reluctant to talk about corruption for fear that it will lead to bad publicity and, consequently, a loss of funding. Working across borders to reach people in need can also give rise to allegations of corruption. The degree of confidentiality necessary to negotiate with those who control access can sometimes make transparency difficult to achieve. Moving clandestinely across borders to access affected populations, as NGOs have done over the years in many conflict situations, can also raise questions about the legitimacy and legality of such action. During the Afghan war in the 1980s, for instance, the Soviet-allied government in Kabul did not want humanitarian actors in Afghanistan, particularly in areas controlled by resistance factions. In this context, humanitarian NGOs had no choice but to cross the Pakistan–Afghanistan border illegally (without permission), through Peshawar and the North West Frontier Province. When humanitarian personnel were captured and held hostage by Soviet or Afghan forces, NGOs argued that the illegality of their actions did not decrease their legitimacy.

Humanitarian organisations cannot ignore the possible consequences of paying bribes or illegal taxes, especially in armed conflicts. Choosing to pay an illegal tax or bribe (in cash or in kind) when confronted by armed guards at a checkpoint may enable the organisation to access people in need, but can be misinterpreted as corruption. Choosing not to pay can mean that humanitarian needs go unmet and that lives may be lost or the risk of harm increased for NGO staff.

NGOs must widen the scope of risk assessment to consider whether their programmes are vulnerable to corruption, such as theft or misappropriation of funds or in-kind goods by warring parties, real or perceived inequities in the distribution of aid and sexual abuse and exploitation of beneficiaries by agency or partner staff. While every situation is different, in all cases NGOs have to balance their commitment to humanitarian principles with the need to control the risk of corruption so as to be truly accountable to their beneficiaries and donors. They should also be transparent with stakeholders about these challenges, and how they may affect decisions about whether or not to continue their work.

NGO’s unethical practices in india

In 2014, a much publicised leaked report by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) warned us that several NGOs, including Greenpeace India, were having a detrimental effect on India’s economic development.

Since then, the government has blocked access to Greenpeace India’s foreign funding, a matter which is now still before the courts. And in 2015, Greenpeace India activist Priya Pillai was offloaded from a flight bound to London where she was to make a case to British Parliamentarians that they should put pressure on London-registered Essar Energy to stop alleged environmental and human rights violation in their projects in Madhya Pradesh.

India’s intelligentsia will have you believe that it’s only authoritarian governments like China, Russia and, by inference, India who’ve clamped down on their activities. But in several thriving and mature democracies, such as Canada and New Zealand, Greenpeace at different points lost its charitable status because the governments of those countries deemed its activities to be political in nature and not really, or at least not principally, charitable.

There is perfectly legitimate ground to debate where the tradeoff between individual liberty and national security, including economic security, should be drawn. But to deny that such a tradeoff does exist as between liberty and any other aspect of the collective good, is intellectually dishonest.


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