Criticised by some as a technical initiative that neglects core principles, Sphere was seen by its originators precisely as an articulation of principle. The Humanitarian Charter was the main vehicle through which this was expressed, but its relationship to the Minimum Standards has remained a matter of uncertainty. Specifically, it was unclear in the original (1999) edition of Sphere how the concept of rights informed the Minimum Standards. The revised (2004) edition goes some way to clarifying this in the way the standards are framed, yet the link between the standards and the charter remains unclear. The concern with the quality and accountability of humanitarian assistance, which motivated the attempt to establish system-wide standards through the Sphere Project, was accompanied by a desire to establish such actions in a wider framework of legal and political responsibility. In part, this reflects the conditional nature of the undertaking that agencies make when they adopt Sphere. This aspect of the charter has been neglected, but it is fundamental to an understanding of the standards and their application. This paper considers the rationale of the Sphere Humanitarian Charter and the conceptual model that underpins it. It discusses the relationship between the charter and the Minimum Standards, and the sense in which the latter are properly called "rights-based" (explored further in a related paper herein by Young and Taylor). The author was closely involved in the conception and drafting of the charter, and this paper attempts to convey some of the thinking that lay behind it.