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

4Strengthening responses through collective action

27.At the International Safeguarding Summit in October 2018, a representative from IMC Worldwide and a representative from Oxford Policy Management (OPM) jointly presented a set of commitments on behalf of UK private sector organisations. These were subsequently published online by DFID alongside the commitment documents from donors, NGOs, the UN, IFIs, and others.47 We were surprised to learn some months later that DFID had agreed with private sector suppliers in advance of the October Summit that “private suppliers would not be called to sign-up to the commitment document”.48 We were told that there were several bases on which this agreement was made:

28.When we pressed DFID on the value of having a commitment document that no one was obliged to sign up to, Peter Taylor, Head of DFID’s Safeguarding Unit, stressed that private suppliers are already accountable on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) because they are contractually bound by the supply partner code of conduct.50 However, we also heard from private suppliers themselves that a purely compliance-based approach is insufficient for driving forward improvements on SEA.51 Kathryn Hancock, representing IMC Worldwide, and one of the authors of the private supplier commitment document, told us that her involvement in the Safeguarding Summit helped her to “take a compliance document and make that into more of a meaningful thing for my colleagues”.52 We were therefore pleased to see that DFID later updated the private supplier commitment document, adding a section where organisations can formally put their name to the commitments.53

29.We were disappointed to learn, in advance of our follow-up evidence session on SEA on 7 May 2019, that private suppliers had not met collectively to discuss progress on safeguarding until six months after the Summit. This meeting, on 1 May 2019, marked the first meeting of the newly established private suppliers Safeguarding Leads Network.54 We were told in oral evidence that one obstacle to collective action on safeguarding amongst private suppliers had been the lack of a sector organising body—an equivalent of Bond for private sector development organisations.55 Tracy Smith, CEO of British Expertise International, suggested it would be helpful if an industry body was created to fulfil this role for private suppliers.56 Our dissatisfaction with the evidence from the private sector on 7 May led us to invite a cross-section of DFID private suppliers to give evidence at a subsequent session on 2 July.

30.We heard that it is important not to draw a false distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit organisations. The former Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Rory Stewart OBE MP, said in evidence on 7 May:

This division between the private sector and NGOs, in relation to international development, is misleading… if we are saying, “This is a DfID project, funded by our taxpayers in somebody else’s country, with a flag on it”, it does not really matter whether the person doing it is KPMG or Oxfam.57

At our evidence session on 2 July, Jo Elms, Managing Director of Options echoed this sentiment, arguing that sharing information on safeguarding, “goes way beyond the private sector; it is actually about how international development organisations can share knowledge with each other”.58 This was reinforced by Fergus Drake, Chief Executive of Crown Agents, who said, “we have to ensure that there is not a false demarcation between the charity sector and the for-profit sector”.59 Sinead Magill, Managing Partner of Palladium Group, emphasised the need for different development actors,—“the NGOs, the finance institutions, DFID itself and ourselves”—to work together to identify community-based complaints mechanisms to enable victims and survivors to report sexual exploitation and abuse.60 When our Chair highlighted the UN’s efforts to coordinate joint-agency complaints mechanisms, Ms Magill responded, “we would really welcome the chance to be part of those”.61 In the 7 May evidence session, Frances Longley, representing the four NGO safeguarding working groups coordinated by Bond, suggested that DFID could be taking “a more advanced role in convening” the range of actors operating within international development.62

31.Whilst we were initially disappointed at the slow pace of collective action on safeguarding by DFID’s private suppliers, this seems more due to a lack of coordination than an absence of will. DFID must recognise the important role it can play as a convenor, ensuring that all aid organisations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, have the opportunity to share best practice and learning on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA). Six months should not have passed after the International Safeguarding Summit before DFID began to facilitate these meetings.

32.Going forward, DFID should ensure that both the private suppliers and the NGOs it is funding are aware of and participating in cross-sectoral safeguarding forums. This will help to break down silos and facilitate coordination and information sharing so organisations can work together to drive up standards collectively on safeguarding across the sector. In particular, DFID should ensure all partners are aware of and connected to inter-agency PSEA networks and inter-agency complaints mechanisms in the countries in which they are implementing DFID programmes.


47 UK Private Sector Organisations, Commitments to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the international aid sector, 18 October 2018, Updated 3 July 2019.

48 Private sector representatives on the Cross-Sector Safeguarding Steering Group (SAS0001)

49 Private sector representatives on the Cross-Sector Safeguarding Steering Group (SAS0001)

51 E.g. Crown Agents (SAS0007)

53 UK Private Sector Organisations, Commitments to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in the international aid sector, 18 October 2018, Updated 3 July 2019.

54 Private sector representatives on the Cross-Sector Safeguarding Steering Group (SAS0001)

55 Tracey Smith Qq29–30; Peter Taylor Q39

62 Q1




Published: 17 October 2019