The international development secretary has written to all overseas charities to demand they “step up”, and has created a new unit with the option to create a register of aid workers in the wake of the Oxfam scandal.
Penny Mordaunt, secretary of state for international development, met with senior Oxfam representatives and the Charity Commission yesterday after the Times reported details of internal investigation from 2011 where senior Oxfam aid workers were sacked or resigned over paying for sex in Haiti.
Mordaunt said in a statement after the meeting that: “I have issued a letter to all UK charities working overseas – including Oxfam – to demand that they step up and do more, so that we have absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency that are needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place, all of the time, and wherever these charities work and with whichever partners they work with.”
She added that “any and all” safeguarding concerns should be reported to the relevant authorities and that the Department for International Development would continue to work closely with the Charity Commission. She said the two organisations will co-host a summit by the end of this month.
Any charities that do not meet the government's standards will lose any DfID funding.
“Whatever the complications and pressures organisations face, the people we are here to serve must be the number one priority. I remain very clear: we will not work with any organisation that does not live up to the high standards on safeguarding and protection that we require,” Mordaunt said.
New unit to review whole aid sector
Mordaunt said she had created a new unit “to urgently review safeguarding across all parts of the aid sector to ensure everything is being done to protect people from harm, including sexual exploitation and abuse”.
The unit will have an option to set up “a global register of development workers” and independent experts will be brought in to advise.
“This builds on the changes we have made to introduce tough sanctions for human rights abuses including sexual exploitation for all new contracts with suppliers and new training for DFID staff to identify and respond to any concerns. I have asked for a meeting with the NCA [National Crime Agency], the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and others to discuss how to make further progress,” she said.
Mordaunt also committed to working internationally to tackle sexual exploitation.
She said: “I am going to step up our work to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse across the UN and other international organisations. Already, the UK is working with the UN Secretary-General Guterres to stop abuses under the UN flag, and we have introduced specific clauses in our funding agreements with a number of UN agencies to take every action possible to prevent all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse and take robust and prompt action in response to any allegations."
Mordaunt announced that a summit, co-hosted with the Charity Commission, will take place this February.
She said: “The Charity Commission and DfID will co-host a safeguarding summit before the end of the month with the aid sector and alongside UK counterparts, where we will agree a set of actions to strengthen safeguarding processes and mechanisms, including around staffing and recruitment, paving the way for a series of events throughout the year.
“We will also work with the Commission to provide technical assistance and support to other nations that wish to improve the standard and regulations of safeguarding.”
Mordaunt also said she would encourage other countries to take similar steps when she gives a speech in Stockholm later this week.
Oxfam ‘must deliver progress’
Mordaunt met with Mark Goldring, the chief executive of Oxfam, and Caroline Thomson, its chair. Neither were at the charity in 2011.
“Oxfam made a full and unqualified apology – to me, and to the people of Britain and Haiti - for the appalling behaviour of some of their staff in Haiti in 2011, and for the wider failings of their organisation’s response to it,” Mordaunt said.
She added that she had been assured that the charity is “cooperating fully with the authorities in Haiti and will do so in any other country where abuse has been exposed”.
Yesterday the deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence, who was the international programme director in 2011, resigned, saying she took responsibility.
The perpetrators in Haiti were not British nationals, and Mordaunt has now directed Oxfam to “immediately provide full details of those involved to the governments of their home countries, so that appropriate legal processes can be taken forward”.
Oxfam must also “confirm to DfID by the end of the week precisely how they will handle any forthcoming allegations around safeguarding - historic or live - in a way in which the public can have confidence. We expect this process to include an independent and external element of scrutiny”.
Mordaunt said Oxfam must “demonstrate the moral leadership necessary to address this scandal, rebuild the trust of the British public, their staff and the people they aim to help, and deliver progress on these assurances” and that she would judge the charity on “actions going forward”.