Twenty-two of the UK’s leading aid organisations have released a joint letter, saying they are “truly sorry” for the allegations of sexual misconduct within the aid sector — and pledging to “do better.”
The British aid sector has seen growing numbers of allegations of unacceptable behaviour from some staff members — sparked by allegations that some Oxfam staff members had paid for sex while on a humanitarian mission to Haiti in 2011.
In the letter, signed by the chief executives of some of the UK’s leading charities, including Global Citizen, this was described as a “double betrayal … not just of the people we exist to serve, but of the British people in whose name we operate.”
“As organisations whose core aim is the help the most vulnerable people in the world, we must always confront abusive behaviour and the misuse of power,” read the letter, published in HuffPost UK.
“We have an absolute duty to our staff, our supporters and, above all, the people we seek to help to ensure we do everything in our power to prevent, detect, and eradicate unacceptable behaviour,” it added.
But, in light of current calls from politicians, the media, and the public, for UK aid funding to be cut, the charities also said we must strive to make sure the vulnerable people supported by the UK aid sector aren’t the ones “punished for our mistakes.”
The CEOs added that the “widespread distress and disappointment” from the past two weeks goes to demonstrate that people feel “profound compassion for those who need Britain’s help.”
“We must honour that instinct, and the rights and needs of the communities we work with, by continuing to deliver vital aid but also changing fundamentally,” the letter said.
As well as apologising for past actions, the charities — including Save the Children UK, Oxfam GB, and Plan International UK — pledged to make a series of “urgent and immediate measures” to ensure it never happens again.
- Increase the resources devoted to safeguarding — for both staff and beneficiaries.
- Review current referencing systems so people found to have abused the power or behaved inappropriately aren’t reemployed in the sector — to include NGOs, government agencies, the UN, and other associated bilateral and domestic agencies.
- To work with these authorities and regulatory bodies to ensure any individual caught abusing their power can’t do so again.
- To work with the government to ensure that we can overcome the legal and institutional barriers to rigorous background checks in the UK.
The charities are also urging people to come forward to report unacceptable behaviour.
“We hope these measures send a clear message to those who experience or witness any form of abuse — it is really important that they know that we will listen and we will take action,” they wrote.
“These actions are only the first step as, collectively and individually, we do everything possible to ensure that our organisations, our staff, and the work we fund meets that most fundamental criteria for all charities — to serve people and not to exploit them,” they added.
These are the organisations that signed the pledge: Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK, UNICEF UK, ActionAid UK, Muslim Aid, WaterAid, Christian Aid, CAFOD, Tearfund, World Vision UK, Islamic Relief UK, CARE International UK, Plan International UK, Practical Action, Start Network, Scotland’s International Development Alliance, Mercy Corps Europe, Concern Worldwide (UK), Global Citizen, VSO, BBC Media Action, and Bond.
The letter comes after Penny Mordaunt, head of the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), said the UK would take a global lead in dealing with abuse within the aid sector.
Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Mordaunt outlined DfID’s response to the reports of exploitation.
“A cultural change is needed to ensure all that can be done to stop sexual exploitation in the aid sector is being done,” said Mordaunt. “And we need to take some practical steps. Now.”
She emphasised the imporance of the UK working together with other nations — with specific mentions of Canada, the Netherlands, and the US — to provide safeguarding solutions that operate around the world.
“The UK is not waiting for others to act,” she said. “We are taking a lead on this.”
Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty. A vital part of this effort is the valuable funding of UK aid, which works to support some of the most vulnerable people in the world. You can join us by taking action to end extreme poverty here.