Save the Children has “not covered itself in glory” over recent allegations about child protection and sexual harassment, a senior MP has said.
Sarah Champion MP, Labour chair of Parliament’s International Development Select Committee, made the comment yesterday while hearing evidence about efforts by aid organisations to address sexual exploitation and abuse.
In 2018 Save the Children dismissed 30 members of its staff working overseas following misconduct allegations, and earlier this year the Charity Commission found “serious failures” in the way the charity had handled complaints of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour made against senior staff in London.
Addressing Steve Reeves, director of child safeguarding at the charity, Champion said: “You represent Save the Children, which has not covered itself in glory when it comes to child protection.”
She asked what changes the charity had made to “embed safeguarding and empowering children” within its work.
Reeves said: “You are right to say that Save the Children has had its issues around workplace culture and the way that certain behaviours have played out in the workforce.”
He added: “I worked for Save the Children just at the start of some of the difficulties becoming realised, and actually the place is dramatically different now.
“That has been achieved through a certain level of investment in specialism and skill and change in processes, but a huge amount about culture and leadership.”
In further criticism of the panel of charity representatives, which included Reeves as well as safeguarding experts from Child Hope, Care International UK and Unicef UK, Champion said she was “rather concerned” when the charities were slow to comment on whether whistleblowing procedures had improved.
'Clean up your act'
Speaking at the same session, aid consultant and former United Nations whistleblower Miranda Brown said that the Department for International Development should take a stronger lead on making sure that charities and other aid bodies reform the way they work to prevent abuse.
Brown said: “I think ministers need to say to aid organisations, and to the UN, ‘We are accountable for taxpayers’ funds, and you need to clean up your act and do it now. We will support you to do it’.
“But the strong wording isn’t given, the message isn’t conveyed. Or at least if it is, it just ignored.
“There must be high-level political engagement for this issue to be resolved.”
Reforms not being delivered
International development charities were also criticised last month for not engaging with a scheme for registering and monitoring aid workers overseas.
The government legal review of the Aid Worker Registration Scheme said that “self-regulation has demonstrably failed”, and that “the vast proportion of individual aid organisations have not voluntarily adopted” programmes which would have shared information between aid charities and introduced independent inspections of how concerns about abuse are recorded and reported.
“As and until measures are mandated by donors, the probability must be that individual organisations will not deliver the reforms sought,” the review said.