Racism in the aid sector – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: International Development Committee

Related inquiry: The philosophy and culture of aid

Date Published: 23 June 2022

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In the last two years, since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, many countries around the world have faced a day of reckoning on racial injustice in their societies. Questions of equality and dignity have been asked of the aid sector for much longer, but this debate has also intensified in this period.

Racism manifests in the very structure of international aid; the sector still reflects the power relationships of colonialism. It shows up in the terminology that aid actors use to describe the people they work with, and in fundraising campaigns which reinforce stereotypes of people in low- and middle- income countries as helpless and in need of saving.

Donors, such as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, multilateral organisations, international non-governmental organisations, and private sector contractors must recognise racism in the sector. They should undertake to shift decision-making power and resources to the communities they work with. The manner in which some cuts to UK funded aid programmes took place, with little or no consultation of the implementing partners or the communities affected, demonstrated the power imbalance that exists and the urgent need for equity.

We heard that the aid sector has a problem if its workforce does not reflect those it works with. High barriers to entry make it challenging for staff from under-represented groups to obtain core policy jobs in the sector. Data shows under-representation at all levels, with the least diversity in leadership positions. There are also inequalities in the positions and pay available to internationally hired staff which are often not available to locally hired staff. These disparities are underpinned by preferences for international experience over contextual or cultural knowledge and assumptions of best practice originating in White majority, high-income countries.