The Department for International Development has been tasked with conducting a new audit of safeguarding arrangements at non-governmental organisations that deliver UK development aid in the wake of revelations about the conduct of Oxfam staff in Haiti.
Secretary of state Penny Mordaunt has given all such NGOs to two weeks to report to officials that they not only have an organisational culture that protects the vulnerable, but that they have also referred “any and all concerns” on specific cases to the relevant authorities with safeguarding responsibilities.
The move follows what Mordaunt described as “shocking events” uncovered that related to sexual exploitation perpetrated by Oxfam staff who were in Haiti after the nation’s devastating 2010 earthquake, which claimed at least 100,000 lives.
Oxfam has been accused of covering up the revelations of sex parties involving prostitutes who may have been minors, and of not doing enough to prevent staff who left its employment following the scandal from securing new jobs with other aid organisations.
In her letter to NGOs, Mordaunt said responses to DfID must confirm that a safe and trusted environment was provided that safeguarded anyone their organisation had contact with; and that there was an organisational culture that prioritised safeguarding and took a proper and sensitive approach to the reporting of incidents.
Organisations were also asked to confirm that their safeguarding policies and procedures were shared and understood by staff, and that there was clarity on “how any incidents and allegations will be handled, should they arise” – with particular reference to reporting to UK and local authorities, the Charity Commission, and DfID.
Mordaunt also said that they “must also specifically confirm” that any and all concerns their organisation may have on specific cases and individuals have been reported to the relevant authorities.
“Alongside the Charity Commission and its other UK counterparts, this should also include any authorities for which your organisation has a responsibility to report safeguarding issues to, specific to your area of work,” she said.
“In addition, you should refer concerns to relevant national authorities in countries where incidents occur. Returns should cite or link to evidence where appropriate.”
Despite the gravity of the allegations faced by Oxfam, aid sector commentators have also remarked on the organisation's comparative transparency relative to some counterparts.
Earlier this week, Mordaunt’s predecessor as international development secretary Priti Patel said she had faced a lack of support from DfID officials when she had tried to ensure accountability on aid effectiveness and allegations sexual abuse of adults and children.
“I would like to say that I was supported and presented with facts from the department laying out the long history that UK governments, Labour and Conservative, had in tackling this global problem,” she wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
“Sadly, I can’t. When I raised this issue in DfID, appalling[ly] it was dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers, which my subsequent investigations showed to be incorrect.”
Mordaunt has confirmed that a new unit has been set up within the department to review safeguarding across all parts of the aid sector, including UK and international charities, suppliers, the UN and other multilateral organisations. The unit will consider the option of establishing a global register of development workers.