The Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has launched a corporate support group with leading Swiss businesses.
It is the first time that the ICRC has established a long-term partnership with the private sector. The support group is part of a long-term aim to diversify the organisation's funding sources.
Each of the seven founding members of the group has pledged to give at least SFr3 million ($2.35 million) to the Geneva-based ICRC over the next six years.
"The point of the partnership is not necessarily for sponsorship," ICRC spokeswoman Antonella Notari told swissinfo.
"It is a partnership for diversification of funds, for the ICRC to also get funds from the private sector. Although our main donors are and will remain states, parties to the Geneva Conventions."
The founding members are ABB, Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie, Roche, Swiss Re, Vontobel, Fondation Hans Wilsdorf and Zurich Financial Services.
Each partner has pledged to make a donation either to the operational activities of the ICRC or to the endowment fund of the Foundation for the ICRC.
Interest from the endowment fund will be used to support the training of ICRC staff.
The group also aims to promote exchanges between the ICRC and its partners in personnel management, risk management, IT and other areas where enterprises have know-how and experience they could share.
Another objective is to have partners that could have an influence on international humanitarian law.
Notari said the ICRC had looked at the ethical questions of going into partnership with the business world.
"Our ethical guidelines, for example, include that we would not become partners with organisations involved in violations of international humanitarian law," she said.
So it would not approach arms manufacturers and firms involved in human rights violations or companies whose products and activities were harmful to health.
"In a general manner we would look carefully at not compromising our own mission, our own role, by becoming partners with these enterprises," she said.
In return for their contributions, the companies will be treated as "preferred partners" for specific events and campaigns.
This does not mean that a Red Cross flag would be imprinted with a company logo because the ICRC does not carry any marks of donors or sponsors in its operations.
"If we were, for example, to have again – as we had in the past – a campaign against anti-personnel mines or a special campaign for the respect of children in wartime... we would look to these partners for help in communication and in raising awareness in any way they wish to be involved with us," Notari explained.
The next step is for the ICRC to broaden the corporate support group by inviting other companies to join, giving priority to those based in Switzerland.
swissinfo, Robert Brookes
ICRC funding in 2004 by donor type:
European Commission: 10%
Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies: 5%
Private: 4% of which less than 0.5% from companies
Donations from the business community today account for less than 0.5% of the ICRC's overall expenditure.
The ICRC's objective is to increase this to 3% in a broad attempt to diversify its funding sources.
It adds that governments are – and shall remain – the organisation's major donors.
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