Saving refugees, profitably: solidarity in an era of humanitarian-business partnerships
From freight forwarder Maersk to major actors in the global platform economy, like Airbnb, global business is out on a mission: harnessing the power of corporate rationales and supply-chain infrastructures to assist humanitarian agencies in responses to disasters, displacement and refugee movements. In the process, brand communication is strengthened, and new markets are occasionally opened. Drawing on field research conducted in Greece, Jordan and Lebanon in the context of responses to the so-called Syrian refugee crisis, the talk critically examines humanitarian-business alliances aimed at providing emergency shelter to refugees in camps. In doing so, it highlights two main elements in the cultural, ethico-political and infrastructural alignment of global business and global aid: the shared reliance on logistical rationales and practices, and the attempt to re-frame the refugee camp as an “economic space”, open to investment and trade. While both these trends have historical roots in humanitarianism’s complex relation with the military and development sectors, actors and dynamics are constantly shifting, calling for critical scrutiny by scholars, advocates and activists. As goods, managers, brands, technologies and financial capital circulate smoothly within and around humanitarian spaces, refugees are subject to ever more violent forms of containment: What forms of solidarity are possible, and indeed needed, in an era of humanitarian-business partnerships?