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

6Promoting transparency

37.In our inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse in 2018, we identified a “widespread reluctance amongst aid organisations to become more transparent about where there have been failings”, with organisations hesitant to lead the way on becoming more transparent about allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), for fear of becoming a target of criticism. Our report stressed that transparency on SEA is vital both for rebuilding trust in the sector and for enabling the sharing of best practice. We concluded that “the sector needs to move together on becoming more open about SEA, so that the organisations which are transparent are not singled out for criticism”.71 In line with an agreement made by participants at the March 2018 Safeguarding Summit to make annual reports “more transparent, with specific information published on safeguarding including the number of cases”,72 we recommended that aid organisations “report the full number of SEA allegations each year, as well as the number of allegations upheld”.73

38.Whilst we recognise that some organisations have taken this forward in their annual reports, this is still not the case across the board. When the then Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt MP, addressed the Bond annual conference in March 2019, she referenced 91 incidents of staff being fired in 2018 in relation to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment cases.74 However, there is no publicly available information on which organisations were involved. We are concerned that reluctance by DFID to be fully transparent over which organisations have reported SEA cases to them reinforces the reluctance of aid organisations to publish this information themselves. We note that when Oxfam International published its latest safeguarding data in May 2019, it included the number of reports received across the confederation, the number that remain under investigation, the number that are now closed, and the outcome of the closed cases.75 This provides an example of what kind of information other organisations could also make public.

39.We emphasised in our July 2018 report that an increase in the number of reports of SEA, at least initially, will indicate an improvement in the effectiveness of reporting and complaints mechanisms.76 In correspondence earlier this year with the CEO of Bond, Stephanie Draper, we suggested that Bond might consider measuring the numbers of SEA reports received by its member organisations as an indicator of whether efforts to improve complaints mechanisms are working.77 Ms Draper responded that “we do expect Bond members to follow due process and to report incidents to the relevant authorities or regulators” but there is “no obligation on our members to share such information with Bond”.78 We felt that this response perhaps underplays the role that Bond, empowered by its members, could play in requiring members to include this information in annual reports, and in analysing trends in reporting on the basis of this information. We note that Bond’s guidance to trustees of NGOs does recommend that organisations make public their “approach, practices and experience” of safeguarding on an annual basis, including “a summary of the safeguarding cases handled in the year”.79

40.At the height of the safeguarding scandal in 2018, aid organisations appeared to recognise that transparency on sexual exploitation and abuse is a necessary component of a full response and essential in breaking down the culture of silence and stigma that has so long inhibited victims from coming forward. Progress on this across the sector has been limited, with some organisations seemingly more willing than others to publish information about the number of allegations they have received and the outcome. Whilst there is consensus that organisations should be reporting this information to donors and the Charity Commission, we have not seen similar commitment to making data public. As a membership organisation of UK NGOs, Bond is well placed to promote transparency by setting an expectation that Bond members will publish annually information about the numbers of SEA allegations received and the outcome, and by monitoring which of its members do so. DFID should similarly set this expectation for private sector suppliers, non-UK NGOs and multilateral agencies, who do not have a membership body to play this role, but who should be equally pressed to improve transparency on sexual exploitation and abuse.

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

72 Department for International Development, “Actions to tackle exploitation and abuse agreed with UK charities”, 5 March 2018

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

75 Oxfam International, “Oxfam publishes latest progress report and global safeguarding data”, May 2019, Accessed on 8 October 2019

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

78 Bond Annex A (SAS0008)

Published: 17 October 2019