When Money Can’t Buy Food and Medicine: Banking Challenges in the International Trade of Vital Goods and their Humanitarian Impact in Sanctioned Jurisdictions

What are the challenges faced by medical and food companies, by humanitarian IOs and NGOs that deliver food and medicine to heavily sanctioned countries?

Project Summary

The past decade has seen a significant shift in global sanctions. Teemed with a rise in counter terrorism and anti-money laundering regulations, this has resulted in financial sector over-compliance, or “de-risking”, and a reduction in activities of humanitarian organisations (the “chilling effect”).

This project will be the first empirical study to explore the following questions:

  • What challenges do humanitarian IOs and NGOs that deliver food and medicine face in heavily sanctioned countries?
  • What role does regulation by the three major powers, US, Europe and China play in the delivery of food and medicine?
  • Which are the best ways of securing the continuation of food and medicine provision during a humanitarian crisis?

The project will design and conduct a detailed, anonymized survey with approximately 400 respondents working for major exporting food, medicine and vaccine companies dealing in the export of essential goods to sanctioned jurisdictions. It will include legal and compliance departments of each organisation and will be assisted by trade associations, which agree to circulate the survey to their networks and assist in its design. It will focus on areas such as latest trading patterns; challenges affecting such trade; informal tactics and best practices, and legal and regulatory framework guiding trade in heavily sanctioned jurisdictions.

This project will fill major gaps in the academic literature. It will identify better ways of securing the continuation of food and medicine delivery in contexts of humanitarian crisis thus providing urgently needed policy contributions. The elaboration of policy recommendations will be steered through multi-stakeholder focus groups, involving leading humanitarian non-state actors, social scientists and international law specialists. Through research articles, a policy report and multi-media dissemination, these policy recommendations will have particular relevance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent global recovery, due to the unique difficulties heavily sanctioned countries face in tackling the virus.

Academic Output

Other Output

When Money Can’t Buy Food or Medicine

Erica Moret, Grégoire Mallard and Zachary Douglas outline a new research project focused on banking challenges in the international trade of vital goods and their humanitarian impact in sanctioned jurisdictions.

Other Output

Why Biden should not treat humanitarian trade as a concession to Iran

The Biden administration has boxed itself into a maximalist position that jeopardises efforts to make the Iran sanctions programme more humane. European governments should be pushed to change course.

Research Team

Grégoire Mallard
Graduate Institute Geneva

Zachary Douglas
Graduate Institute Geneva

Erica Moret
Principal Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Jin Sun
Principal Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Charlotte Beaucillon
Principal Member
University of Lille

Maria Shagina
Principal Member
University of Zurich

Emmanuela-Chiara Gilard
Principal Member
Oxford University

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj
Principal Member
Bourze & Bazaar





Policy domains


Host Institution