Case Studies

Overseas aid strategy against sexual exploitation

by Mark Rowe

Sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment in any organisation is completely unacceptable, particularly in a sector which aims to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world. So says Sir Philip Barton, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), at the opening of a strategy document, titled: ‘safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment within the aid sector’. Overseas aid must be delivered in a way that does no harm, Sir Philip wrote.

As that foreword says, this strategy comes as a result of ‘failings of the past’, ‘over the past 25 years’; that is, scandals of sexual misconduct tied to the delivery of aid; and abuse of aid-giving staff and contractors. The strategy covers not only victims and survivors, but whistle-blowers and what the document termed ‘real culture change’ against the problem in the long term.

Among the practical work, the UK says it supports a ‘Misconduct Disclosure Scheme’ as ‘a framework for organisations working in the aid sector to share
information about a past employee’s history of sexual misconduct at work. Signatories to the scheme are able to do this while respecting relevant legal and regulatory requirements.’ DFID and now FCDO [the Department for International Development has now been merged into the Foreign Office] has been ‘actively encouraging organisations to sign up’ and looking at how to do it themselves.

And an ‘Aid Worker Registration Scheme’ will provide employers with ‘a trusted source of evidence about a potential employee’s past work history, closing
the loop on those who lie or omit information’. According to the document the FCDO is hoping to pilot the scheme in 2020. Also the FCDO is working with Interpol and the UK’s ACRO Criminal Records Office, towards ‘more and better criminal records checks on staff’.

The document also says that on ‘organisational culture’ all UK aid-spending departments will ‘ensure that staff know their responsibilities on safeguarding and feel safe to come forward and report concerns in the knowledge that their concerns will be responded to sensitively but robustly and with a victim and survivor-centred approach’.


For Labour, Preet Kaur Gill, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, described the strategy as a welcome step towards rebuilding trust and preventing sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the aid sector, but added that there remain serious questions about how the UK will implement and monitor the commitments in the strategy. She said: “This is a good start but now we need to see government action to ensure all those who receive UK aid have the right practices in place to end exploitation and abuse and deliver real and meaningful cultural change.”

For the strategy document visit the Foreign Office website.

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