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Ethical Clients?

Following the news that Wilkinson Eyre had entered a competition for a client in China linked to the sale of banned chemicals to Iran Building Design (9 November 2001) asked

When should an architect refuse to accept a lucrative project?

In the Comment & Analysis article by Karen Glaser which followed she asked "if it is time for architects to rethink their involvement in projects with a dubious human rights record."

The RIBA was also implicated as it invited the delegation of Chinese architects and urban planners to its HQ for a networking opportunity.

While it emerged that compared to other professions architects do not do all they could and should to check out their clients, particularly foreign ones, there are two approaches to whether to work for clients who may be unethical.

Kate Macintosh who chairs Architects and Engineers for Social Responsibility thinks that architects should not just approach the commercial staff of embassies where they are considering projects, but also more impartial organisations such as the United Nations Association or Friends of the Earth.

However RIBA president Paul Hyett thinks it would be misguided for architects to blacklist countries with lamentable human rights records such as China, drawing a distinction between a government and its people. Similarly Amnesty International does not call for the economic boycott of corrupt regimes.

We would urge architects to exert their influence where they can. Before meeting with the client for the first time get advice from a corporate lawyer and look at our annual report on human rights violations in the country. That way you are informed and can ask confidently about things like child labour and whether health and safety regulations are adhered to. A quick audit of the situation that includes a human rights and environmental component should be axiomatic for any responsible company.

Though we may be architects and not politicians we are citizens with responsibilities; not only at home where we are in a democracy and can call politicians to account, but also globally where we can also use our influence and support organisations like Amnesty International and the World Development Movement.

 

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