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The Morality of International Aid

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. Should charities be abandoned because of the behaviour of some of their workers?

Since we learned that aid workers, sent to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake, chose instead to have sex with some of them, there's been something of a moral earthquake within the international aid sector. Charities had seemed to be beyond criticism; paragons of virtue. Now their moral high ground is crumbling away. It's not just Oxfam, though that was where the revelations began and where loud apologies failed to stop 7,000 private donors from cancelling their direct debits. Now the spotlight is on the aid 'industry' as a whole. It seems we can't stand the hypocrisy of powerful organisations using taxpayers' money to lecture us on how to behave, while failing to get their own house in order. There is a wider question about their effectiveness in helping people out of poverty: sceptics argue that global capitalism and stable institutions are much more important; without them, development aid is a waste of time and money. They believe the UK's "overgenerous" foreign aid commitment should be scrapped. Others dismiss that reaction as a moral panic which is ignorant, duplicitous and totally disproportionate. Of course, they say, charities - like any institutions - can be infiltrated by bad people, but when it comes to long-term development, oversees aid helps far more than it hinders. Regardless of whether or not international charities are supremely efficient or every one of their employees is a saint, do we still have a moral duty to give them money, either individually or collectively through tax, to help people in poor countries?

Producer: Dan Tierney.

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43 minutes

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