Legitimating Solidarity: Corporate Partnerships and the Political Climate for Humanitarianism

Maha Atal

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The political climate for non-governmental organizations has grown more challenging over recent decades, due to the growing preference of multilateral donors for private sector led-initiatives, the efforts of donor governments to more closely tie aid funding to policy interests, and related hostility from recipient governments to aid organizations as representative of foreign political actors.
In India since 2014, under the Narendra Modi government, this hostility has resulted in efforts to withdraw licenses to operate, visas or other official recognition from foreign NGOs, particularly those critical of the government’s sectarian policies (Ruparelia 2016, Taludkar 2018). At the same time, the government has introduced new legislation requiring large corporations to meet formal thresholds for corporate social investment as a means of achieving development objectives (Desai, Viswanath and Tripathy 2015; Mitra and Schmidpeter 2016; Chaparia and Jha 2018). At the same time, in the United Kingdom, foreign aid spending, including government donations to NGOs, has grown more dependent on compatibility with British political and security objectives (Fisher and Anderson 2015; Abrahamsen 2016; Brown and Grävingholt 2016).
This paper situates an ongoing, multi-tiered collaboration between IKEA and Save the Children in light of these developments. The partnership includes both donations from IKEA's corporate foundation and proceeds from certain sales in IKEA stores to Save the Children's programs around the world, with a particular focus on anti-child labor efforts in India. It considers the strategic logic of this partnership from both IKEA and Save the Children's perspectives.
For IKEA, the paper finds, this exercise in humanitarian branding is closely linked to its participation in UN-led development efforts like the Sustainable Development Goals, and its involvement as a direct supplier of products and logistics services to international refugee resettlement programs at the UN and elsewhere. For the UK-based Save the Children, such partnerships with industry can potentially mitigate the effects of the securitization and politicization of aid in both the British and Indian contexts. I use this case study to consider how the partnership with IKEA, as a multinational business, affects Save the Children’s legitimacy with governments and communities in this politically fraught environment for international aid actors, and how the partnership with Save the Children affects IKEA's self-positioning as a humanitarian business.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual: Development Today: Accumulation, Surveillance, Redistribution - Virtual, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 18 Jul 202021 Jul 2021
Conference number: 32


ConferenceSASE 32nd Annual Conference 2020 - Virtual
Internet address

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