Swedish think-tank launches ethical aid tool

A Swedish think-tank has launched a new web portal enabling aid-workers and peacekeepers to check that the firms they contract do not also engage in illegal activities.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said its new information web portal, www.ethicalcargo.org, would “prevent arms and drug traffickers from accessing significant humanitarian aid and peacekeeping funds.”

In an earlier report, SIPRI showed that “more than 90 percent of the air cargo carriers identified in arms trafficking-related reports had also been used for humanitarian aid and peace-keeping operations between 2004 and 2009.”

“In some cases, air cargo companies have delivered both aid and weapons to the same conflict zones,” the think-tank said in a statement.

SIPRI said ethicalcargo.org was “dedicated to transforming the way air cargo and maritime companies behave in conflict zones and fragile states.”

The portal, funded by Sweden’s governmental aid agency SIDA and the country’s foreign ministry, includes a database, model codes of conduct and best practices for negotiations with transport suppliers.

It also uses an alerts system to highlight other dangers posed by transport companies, such as frequent crashes.

For example, Bluebird Aviation, a company that according to its website counts United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and US government aid agency USAID as clients, has crashed four times in less than six years.

On two of the occasions, its planes were carrying the narcotic khat to Somalia, SIPRI said.

And when supplies were sent to Indonesia for emergency relief after a tsunami devastated the region in late 2004, some of the air cargo companies and individuals contracted by the United Nations and aid groups were involved in illicit arms transfers to Africa, according to SIPRI.

The think-tank said its new web portal did “not recommend banning companies,” but that it hoped to promote awareness and transform company behaviour.

If contracting agencies raise their standards in choosing providers for transport of aid, “the significant sums of money available for such contracts will encourage companies to adopt effective ethical transportation policies in order to increase their market share,” SIPRI’s Hugh Griffiths said.

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