Follow-up: sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector Contents

3Pressing for progress at the UN

22.Our July 2018 report discussed in some detail the weaknesses of the UN in preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse and we outlined the role the UK could play in driving forward improvement.39 The UN has recently published a fact-sheet, detailing the initiatives that have been launched by the Secretary General since 2017 to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), with an update on the progress of each initiative. We are pleased to see that, amongst other activities, this includes the development of harmonised guidelines for investigations of sexual exploitation and abuse across UN investigative bodies, in line with our recommendation from 2018.40

23.However, evidence suggests that the UN still has far to go on SEA and the UK is well placed to push for progress. In December 2018, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) published a review of the UK’s approach to funding the UN humanitarian system. It found that, whilst DFID had moved quickly to encourage the UN agencies to strengthen their safeguarding systems, “there is considerable work still to be done at both the international and country levels to identify and implement practical solutions”.41 UN staff interviewed by ICAI noted that UN agencies already had appropriate policies in place, and that the challenge was “to change culture and practice across the UN system so that staff take personal responsibility for preventing exploitation”.42 ICAI concluded that whilst DFID is now considered to be highly engaged on SEA at the UN, “the measures that DFID is currently promoting are only a first step”.43

24.Cooperation between UN agencies is key. Our July 2018 report, whilst recognising that there may be advantages to decentralisation of UN agencies, argued that “this does not preclude coordination and consistency”.44 When the Committee visited the UN in 2018, we heard about the value of joint inter-agency community-based complaints mechanisms, which can apply not just to UN agencies but all implementing partners including local and national NGOs and private suppliers. It is disappointing these have not yet been implemented more widely. According to a report on complaints and feedback mechanisms published by CHS Alliance, “while the positive elements of inter-agency [community-based complaint mechanisms] have been well acknowledged over the years, they are still not common practice”.45

25.We note that the new OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recommendation on ending sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment presses for international coordination on SEA and sexual harassment, recommending closer cooperation and collaboration between DAC members, implementing partners, experts and the UN, with “particular efforts… to align standards for survivors’ and victims’ support, investigation management, and reporting by implementing partners”.46

26.The gap between safeguarding policy and practice extends to the United Nations. The UK Government, now recognised as actively engaged on sexual exploitation and abuse at the UN, is well placed to press UN agencies towards implementation of best practice. In particular, the UK should use its position of influence as a donor to ensure that inter-agency community-based complaint mechanisms are widely and effectively established. This may involve actively funding such mechanisms to ensure that they are functioning in locations where multiple agencies are operating.


39 International Development Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–2019, “Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector”, HC840.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 International Development Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2017–2019, “Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector”, HC840.




Published: 17 October 2019