Addressing racism in aid

29 June 2020

In recent weeks Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests have reverberated around the world. While the BLM movement has been active for years, the heightened scrutiny and condemnation of systemic inequalities in societies and institutions worldwide during a global health pandemic has pierced the collective consciousness in so many areas of life.

The aid sector, rightfully, is no exception.

Numerous recent articles, meetings, conversation and webinars have shined a light on the aid sector’s own participation in and replication of structural racism.

COVID-19 and BLM are game changers for the world as we know it, as they must be for the aid sector. What comes next – the ‘new normal’ – is the chance for us to create a more accountable and fairer aid system.

Addressing the power imbalances present in aid work has always been at the heart of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS). The CHS has always aimed to centre aid work on the priorities of communities and people affected by crisis and hold organisations accountable.

The CHS Alliance tries to accelerate achieving this goal, by supporting our members to implement CHS Commitments related to accountability towards affected people (AAP). AAP is the process of using power responsibly. It is taking account of, and being held accountable by, different stakeholders, primarily those who are affected by the exercise of such power.

However, we recognise that the CHS does not go far enough in addressing all types of fundamental and systematic power imbalances and abuses, especially racism in aid.

We cannot try and address inequalities elsewhere without looking at how these play out internally in our own structures, policies and practices. Truly making aid work better for people means we must confront intersecting power relations between and within both aid organisations and communities affected by crisis.

If you haven’t already, we encourage all individuals working in CHS Alliance member and partner organisations to watch these recent webinars. Both are essential discussions on confronting racism within – and as a part of – the aid community:

Aid Re-imagined – How to be Anti-Racist in Aid:

The New Humanitarian – When the West falls into Crisis:

Going forward we as an Alliance need to interrogate and act on how applying the CHS responds to these uneven relationships at many levels, including:

  • At a policy level: How can we support our members to better understand and be more explicit in their commitment to anti-racism? Do we need these set these out as formal requirements, as we do with protection from exploitation, abuse and harassment?
  • Accountability: Are we challenging racism and other inequalities strongly enough through the programme interventions we recommend to our members? Do our recommendations on accountability sufficiently recognise and respect the demographic balance of the communities involved? Are the best practices we share fully inclusive, ensuring meaningful participation of all people affected by crisis?
  • People Management: Do we do enough to support our members to implement inclusive recruitment, reward and talent development practices? To take affirmative action and ensure diversity in leadership and decision making?

Moreover, we need to look to the future as we being to reimagine aid for the 2020s and beyond. In 2021 we, along with the other CHS copyright holders, will begin open and wide-ranging debates to review and update the CHS itself.

We believe that this revision process will enable much needed conversations on how the CHS can do more to address power imbalances, including shifting the power towards national and local aid organsiations. Yet how do we also recognise the major structural issues in the international political order that preserve power imbalances? If the sector only addresses stand-alone crises, then how can we truly transform structural problems?

We know that we need to move away from a charity and saviour mindset to one of international social justice, solidarity and equity. What is the role of the CHS in this? And what should it be?

Please let us know your views on how we can turn this reflection into action by participating in our upcoming events and Communities of Practice, or getting in touch with our leads on: