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

Conclusions and recommendations

From paper to practice

1.Whilst culture change is an important part of solutions to SEA, it is not the same as having access to practical resources for receiving and responding to complaints, such as safeguarding staff, focal points and investigators. We note that DFID’s Resource and Support Hub does have the potential to provide this practical support: As part of its reply to this report, we ask that DFID set out clearly how exactly the Hub will be “offering support with investigations”, distinguishing between describing and signposting, on the one hand, and actual access to, and provision of, services, on the other. (Paragraph 9)

2.We ask DFID to provide, as part of its reply to this report, a description of the planned steps—and associated resources—which will embed, promulgate and enable aid recipients to enjoy the rights contained in such a statement once developed. (Paragraph 10)

3.As part of its reply to this report, we would be assisted by DFID setting out how many requests, and for how much additional funding, the Department has received and granted in relation to safeguarding since 2018 (Paragraph 12)

4.At the International Safeguarding Summit in October 2018, we were pleased to see the emphasis that DFID placed on supporting the victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and on strengthening reporting. The measures that DFID and Bond have presented to us which are aimed at providing better complaints mechanisms and improving responses to victims and survivors have the potential to be the first steps towards making this a reality. However, these measures place significant weight on developing the theory and substantially less on ensuring changes in practice. The final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change provided a stark reminder of how little has really changed for those who are exploited and abused by aid workers. DFID and the wider aid sector now need to place greater emphasis on ensuring that the changes to policy at organisational level are felt in practice by those living in humanitarian and development contexts who have experienced, or who are at risk of experiencing, sexual exploitation and abuse. DFID’s provision of resources through budget lines is a positive step, but the Department’s messaging on this needs to be clearer. (Paragraph 13)

5.DFID should commit unequivocally to ensuring that any programme it funds where there are safeguarding risks has sufficient resources for safeguarding built into the programme. This should include, where required, provision for safeguarding staff and focal points operating at the programme level. (Paragraph 14)

6.As well as providing the resource, DFID should hold organisations accountable for how this funding is used. For example, DFID has supported Bond to develop a complaints and reporting toolkit and has committed up to £10 million towards the establishment of a Resource and Support Hub. The Department should now set out how they will monitor the implementation of the best practice guidance that is set out in the toolkit and which will be available through the Hub, to ensure that it has practical impact. (Paragraph 15)

Empowering and protecting whistle-blowers

7.Protection for whistle-blowers should form part of all frameworks for reporting sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment of both beneficiaries and staff. We have not yet seen sufficient attention being given to monitoring and improving the effectiveness of whistle-blowing policies and we are concerned that the importance of protecting whistle-blowers has so far been downplayed. The systematic audit of whistle-blowing practices that was agreed upon at the March 2018 Safeguarding Summit has seemingly been shelved. Both DFID and Bond have seemed reluctant to take responsibility for driving up standards on whistle-blower protection. (Paragraph 20)

8.We are not convinced that the VAWG helpdesk research on whistle-blowing is a substitute for a systematic audit of whistle-blowing practices across the sector, particularly as we have not seen any evidence that this research has had a tangible impact on organisations’ approaches. If DFID’s assessment of whistle-blowing policies through its enhanced due diligence and central assurance assessments is having a positive impact and raising standards, then DFID should make its findings and recommendations publicly available, so that other organisations can benefit from this learning. If DFID is not willing to publish the findings of these of these assessments as a learning tool, then it should work with Bond to conduct and publish a systematic audit of whistle-blowing practices across the sector, as was previously agreed in March 2018. As we said in our first report, it is vital that this audit takes into account not just the existence of whistleblowing policies, but also their effectiveness in practice. (Paragraph 21)

Pressing for progress at the UN

9.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. (Paragraph 26)

Strengthening responses through collective action

10.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. (Paragraph 31)

11.Going forward, DFID should ensure that both the private suppliers and the NGOs that 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 that 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. (Paragraph 32)

Moving beyond self-regulation

12.Voluntary self-regulation of safeguarding standards allows failures on sexual exploitation and abuse to slip through the cracks. In our view the case for an independent ombudsman remains strong. Without one, there is a risk that victims and survivors and their advocates will have no avenue through which they can appeal if the established reporting channels fail them and we see this as a huge, ongoing accountability gap. The ability to appeal to an independent body is a fundamental part of any fair system of justice and, to date, there appears little recognition of this within the sector. We welcome the development of the ombudsman proposal by the Dutch Government and we urge the UK Government, together with Dutch Government counterparts, to display international leadership in making the ombudsman a reality.(Paragraph 36)

Promoting transparency

13.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. (Paragraph 40)

Published: 17 October 2019