Charities accept 'painful' findings of MPs' aid inquiry and promise improvements

31 Jul 2018 News

Credit: UK Parliamant/Mark Duffy

Charities have said that they accept the findings of today's report into sexual abuse and exploitation in the aid sector and have said they are committed to meaningful change. 

The International Development Committee began an inquiry into sexual abuse and exploitation after newspaper revelations about how Oxfam handled and reported allegations of sexual misconduct in Haiti. Revelations about Oxfam also prompted similar stories about sexual misconduct in other aid organisations to emerge. 

Today MPs published a damning report about the scale of the abuse and their concerns that the sector has not done enough to deal with abuse.  

Aid charities, umbrella bodies and the Charity Commission have said that the committee is right to challenge the sector to do better and said that they are committed to tackling the issues. 

Oxfam: ‘Truly sorry’

Caroline Thomson, chair of Oxfam 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."

Save the Children UK: ‘We have made mistakes’

Save the Children UK said in response to the report that it has to accept that, as a sector, it “failed to meet the standards that the public, parliament and the UK government demand, and that our beneficiaries have a right to expect”.

It said that it shares the “grave concern of MPs about the incidence of sexual exploitation and abuse”, and that the International Development Committee’s report provides a “fair and balanced assessment of the evidence”. 

It said that it had “heard the wake-up call for the entire aid sector loud and clear”, and that measures proposed in the report “could, if implemented effectively, transform the safeguarding environment – and we are committed to act”.

Kevin Watkins, chief executive 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.”

Bond: ‘Business as usual is not going to cut it’

Judith Brodie, interim chief executive of Bond, the UK’s network of international development NGOs, said that the inquiry has been an “important step towards addressing sexual exploitation and abuse across the aid and development sector”. 

She said that the aid and development sector is “working here and around the world to end sexual exploitation and abuse, in countries, institutions and within our own organisations”.

But, she said, “there is more to be done and we must ensure that where failures of culture and policies within our own organisations exist, this will not be tolerated.”

She said that the culture around safeguarding is shifting to better reporting, screening and accountability, but said: “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”.

She said: “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.”

Charity Commission: ‘It is time for charities and their leaders to confront these issues’

The Charity Commission said that it takes “safeguarding extremely seriously” and its role is to “hold all charities, including those working in the international aid sector, to account for the way they fulfil their duties in keeping people safe”.

Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “But the charity sector must go further than simply box-ticking against their legal duties or improving processes and policies. We are particularly pleased to see the Committee’s focus on the responsibility of charity leaders to set an organisational culture that demonstrates zero tolerance for abuse. 

“Charities should be judged not just by what they do or achieve, but by how they go about it. Our research shows that the public expect charities to demonstrate the highest standards are met through everything they do. In the context of safeguarding this means creating safe and trusted environments, including for victims to come forward if abuse does occur, and being transparent with us as the regulator, and the public where appropriate, when things go wrong. It is time for charities and their leadership to fully confront these issues with a real commitment to lasting and demonstrable change.”

Russell added that it is pleased that the committee “recognises our crucial role in monitoring and upholding standards on safeguarding in charities, and welcome the Committee’s recommendation that the Commission should be properly resourced to meet these challenges”. She said the regulator will “continue to work with government to ensure we are adequately resourced to meet future challenges.”

NCVO: 'We owe it to beneficiaries, supporters and ourselves to reflect carefully on recommendations'

Elizabeth Chamberlain, head of policy at NCVO, said: "This is a constructive report with a range of ideas to help tackle abuse in the aid sector. We owe it to beneficiaries, supporters and ourselves to reflect carefully on its recommendations and ensure we do all we can to prevent abuse in the future. I know the will is there to find a solution to these problems and I think it’s essential that we do, so we can show that not just the aid sector but all charities operate with the most exacting of standards, as the public expect.

"We are working with other sector bodies and the Charity Commission on these issues. In particular NCVO is developing a code of ethics for charities which is out for consultation currently and which we would welcome feedback on from all with an interest in the sector."
 

Acevo: ‘Listen and learn in order to build a safer charity sector’ 

Acevo said that the committee rightly condemns those in the international aid sector who use their position to abuse and exploit others. 

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: “ACEVO works alongside a huge number of civil society leaders from a range of organisations who work hard to create a fairer, more equal, more socially just society, and they may find it hard to recognise the behaviour described in the IDC’s report. But the uncomfortable truth is that too many people do recognise the behaviour and actions described in the report because they have experienced harm when working for or receiving aid from international charities.”

Browning said that how sector leaders react now will “govern how confident people feel about coming forward with reports of abuse”. She said that “without the trust of those who experience harm we will not be able to create the lasting change necessary to reduce the risk of abuse occurring. This is an opportunity to listen and learn in order to build a safer charity sector at home and abroad”.

She added that Acevo was pleased that the report highlights the need for a sustained multi-agency response from funders, donors, DFID and the UN to ensure that safeguarding is a permanent priority. 

Institute of Fundraising: ‘Charities need to show real and meaningful change’

Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and external affairs at the Institute of Fundraising, said: “Today’s report highlights hugely important issues for the international aid sector, as well as the need for all charities to ensure they have proper safeguarding policies and procedures in place. Everyone who works with, for, or comes into contact with a charity must be treated with respect and have their rights protected.

“Supporters and the public rightly have high expectations of how charities work and hold them to high standards. They care about causes, and while we never take public donations for granted, we believe that people will continue to support charities and continue to give. Charities need to show real and meaningful change, be transparent, and fully accountable. By being upfront, honest, and clear with supporters charities can keep support and continue to work to make the world a better place.”

 

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