Responding to The International Development Select Committee's report ,Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, 

Oxfam House

Oxfam House

Image by allispossible.org.uk

 Oxfam Chair of Trustees, said: 

"Today's report makes for incredibly painful reading for me, for everyone at Oxfam and for the aid sector as a whole. Oxfam exists to help improve the lives of the world's most vulnerable people; we know we failed to protect vulnerable women in Haiti, and we accept we should have reported more clearly at the time - for that we are truly sorry. We have made improvements since 2011 but recognise we have further to go. 

"The Committee is right to challenge all of us in the sector to do better – we need to give the same sustained priority to preventing and tackling sexual abuse as we do to saving lives during humanitarian emergencies. Victims and survivors must be at the heart of our approach and the report's recommendations demand serious attention. 

"Oxfam is committed to the safety and dignity of everyone who interacts with us. We are determined to strengthen women’s rights within Oxfam and in the communities in which we work. Since February, as part of our comprehensive action plan, we have tripled funding for safeguarding, established an independent whistleblowing helpline and committed to publish details of safeguarding cases twice a year." 

Ends 

For further information contact: media.unit@oxfam.org.uk/01865 472498 

Notes to editors: 

On 16 February 2018, Oxfam announced a ten-point action plan to improve its safeguarding policies and practices. A summary of the plan is available here: https://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/about-us/stamping-out-abuse 

Progress toward the action plan was published last week and we will update regularly on further progress https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/07/oxfam-training-119-more-safeguarding-investigators 

On 16 March 2018, Oxfam appointed an Independent Commission to review its culture and safeguarding systems. The Commission is co-chaired by Zainab Bangura, a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, and Katherine Sierra, a former Vice-President of the World Bank. They lead an independent group of international experts from the realms of business, government and civil society.

 

SAVE THE CHILDREN WELCOMES REPORT BY INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE ON THE AID SECTOR

 

Save the Children UK warmly welcomes this rigorous and constructivereport. We have to accept that, as a sector, we have failed to meet the standards that the public, parliament and the UK Government demand, and that our beneficiaries have a right to expect. When it comes to protecting vulnerable women and children there is no room for compromise or complacency – and this report sets out practical proposals for change.

We share the grave concern of MPs about the incidence of sexual exploitation and abuse. The problems have been highlighted in successive reports by Save the Children and others. The International  Development Committee’s report provides a fair and balanced assessment of the evidence. Along with other charities, we have heard the wake-up call for the entire aid sector loud and clear. Measures proposed in the report could, if implemented effectively, transform the safeguarding environment – and we are committed to act.

The starting point is to set our own houses in order. Save the Children is strengthening its safeguarding systems to ensure we meet the highest possible standards of prevention, reporting and response. Governments also have a role to play. That’s why we have called for legislation to make development charities a regulated sector under UK law.

Save the Children also wants to see international action. We are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with Interpol aimed at establishing a global mechanism for conducting background checks using the data resources of national crime agencies. In this context, we particularly welcome the committee’s support for the idea of an international register of aid workers. Such a register would help to prevent abusers from working in the sector.

Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK, said:

"The International Safeguarding Conference this autumn, which has been convened by the Department for International Development, represents a critical opportunity for the aid sector to get to grips with these problems and adopt practical solutions to stamp out the abuse of vulnerable children and young women." 

"We have made mistakes in our own handling of historical sexual harassment complaints from staff in the UK. Although some progress has been made in creating a more respectful working culture, there is a great deal more to do. That’s why we have commissioned an independent internal review of our organisational culture which we have committed to making public."

 

Aid sector must do more to stamp out sexual abuse, says IDC

31 JULY 2018

The International Development Committee (IDC) has published areport on its full inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the aid sector. Bond provided evidence to the inquiry and updated the committee on the firm action we and our members are taking to improve the sector’s approach to safeguarding.

The inquiry is a crucial shift towards addressing sexual exploitation and abuse across the aid and development sector. Although NGOs, donors and regulators have collectively taken important steps aimed at stamping out sexual exploitation in the sector, the IDC concludes that more needs to be done to ensure that organisations’ failures of culture and policies are not tolerated. 

Analysis of NGOs’ practices and cultures 

The report highlights the extreme power imbalance between those receiving aid and those delivering it.  The IDC says a full response to sexual exploitation and abuse will depend on the implementation of interlinked measures of empowerment, reporting, accountability and screening. 

The inquiry calls for a complete change of mindset, and says that those funding and delivering aid need to work together to actively root out the problem. 

Although NGO policies and procedures have been in place, the report states that these have not been implemented successfully and that new worthwhile initiatives around responding to SEA have been continually underfunded. A key focus going forward is to sustain momentum and ensure that progress will not begin to stagnate. 

The IDC contends that victims and survivors of sexual exploitation should demonstrably be at the centre of all efforts to tackle SEA and should be included in policy-making processes on an ongoing basis. The committee also suggests a victim-centred approach needs to be integrated across all aspects of the sector’s response. 

Recommendations for the sector

The IDC recommends: 

  • Improved reporting of SEA. This is vital to understanding the problem. Donors, in particular DFID, must provide funds to support the implementation of reporting mechanisms, while also ensuring that victims’ extreme vulnerabilities are at the heart of any recommendations that improve reporting mechanisms. This includes the creation of safe spaces, where victims and survivors feel they can talk about abuse. Any whistle-blowing systems must be accessible and protecting those using it.
  • Developing clearer best practice guidelines on how to handle reports of SEA, including on referring potential crimes to relevant authorities. 
  • Creating an international register of aid workers, collectively resourced and independently managed, to act as a barrier to sexual predators seeking to enter the international aid profession. Best practice standards on referencing should be developed – including what information can and cannot be shared between organisations.
  • Sector-wide clarity and agreement on how a positive safeguarding culture can be identified and what the best tools are for embedding this. All aid organisations should commit to regular assessments of culture, based on agreed indicators, and including how organisations handle the sexual harassment and abuse of staff.
  • Information on safeguarding cases should be published in annual reports – aid organisations should report the full number of SEA allegations each year, as well as the number of allegations upheld. 
  • DFID should take responsibility for ensuring safeguarding is a line in budgets for programmes where there are safeguarding risks, and that grants and contracts allow for these costs. 
  • Aid organisations should aim to achieve gender parity on boards, at senior management level, throughout the workforce. 
  • The government must ensure that the Charity Commission is provided with sufficient resources to enable it to meet the demand created by the increase in safeguarding related incident reports.
  • Establishing an independent aid ombudsman and taking tangible steps towards making this a reality.

We need to do more to change

Judith Brodie, interim CEO of Bond, says: “The increased public attention on safeguarding has resulted in more people coming forwards to report allegations and incidents. This is a sign that the culture around safeguarding is shifting towards better reporting, screening and accountability, where beneficiaries and staff have the knowledge and confidence to raise concerns in a safe and supportive environment. We can only deliver zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse with strong leadership and culture change in our organisations and as a sector we are committed to delivering this change. 

“We as NGOs know that ‘business as usual’ is not going to cut it and change has started and is underway. We need to see increased resourcing in safeguarding, particularly for smaller NGOs, more collaboration across organisations, donors and governments, better transparency, unwavering leadership and measures to ensure whistle-blowers and survivors are at the heart of any solutions. This sadly cannot undo previous shortcomings but it will result in a safer and more secure environment for both beneficiaries and staff.”

Find out what Bond and the sector are doing to drive up safeguarding standardsacross the sector.

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