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International Development Committee into sexual exploitation: 57% think aid organisation whistleblowing policies and practices inadequate

The recent report, Progress on tackling the sexual exploitation and abuse of aid beneficiaries, by the International Development Committee, has found abuse of beneficiaries to be rife with the aid sector and the last safe haven for perpetrators.

The report also found that when victims or whistle-blowers try to report abuse, little meaningful action follows, allowing perpetrators to continue working in the sector.

The committee’s report says almost three-quarters of stakeholders that took part in a snapshot poll said sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by aid workers remained a problem, while 26 per cent said they had witnessed what they thought was abusive behaviour. The poll found 57% of respondents felt the effectiveness of the whistleblowing policies and practices at their organisations were inadequate.

Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the International Development Committee, said: “Throughout the inquiry we heard repeatedly of abusers acting with impunity, whistle-blowers being hounded out of their jobs and victims finding it impossible to secure justice.

“I know that the vast majority of aid workers are dedicated people proud to serve beneficiaries, but until the perpetrators of exploitation and abuse are driven out of the sector, there remains a dark shadow across their good work.”

The report recommends that the FCDO undertake a full and transparent audit of whistleblowing in the aid sector to ‘provide a full understanding of how whistleblowing practices are being implemented and used, to give confidence that whistle-blowers are actively supported and not retaliated against by their organisations.’

MPs said a full, transparent audit of whistleblowing in the aid sector will provide a better understanding of how whistleblowing practices are being used and give confidence that whistleblowers are not being retaliated against by their employers.

 NDAs, which Protect has spoken out on, remains a huge accountability issue in the sector and the report highlights a Christian charity which gagged a whistleblower who raised concerns about workplace bullying and its handling of a sexual assault case. The unidentified whistleblower says he raised his concerns directly with the charity’s chief executive but shortly after the meeting his contract as an aid worker in Africa was terminated. He appealed, citing unfair dismissal, and was offered £70,000 on condition that he signed a non-disclosure agreement and ‘erase irretrievably’ all documents/evidence.

The report recommends the FCDO require organisations it funds to report on non-disclosure agreements they have signed to ensure that partners are not misusing NDAs to silence those who speak up.

Head of Policy at Protect, Andrew Pepper-Parsons said, “It is extremely concerning the aid sector is still failing to realise the benefits of a robust whistleblowing system to flag wrongdoing and risks.

Our Time to Transform report into third sector whistleblowing culture identified areas to improve whistleblowing culture in the third sector – but we would like to work with many more charities who clearly need our support. ”

In addition to requiring funded organisations to report on NDAs, the FCDO should require all the organisations it funds to have effective whistleblowing arrangements in place. Prevention is better than cure – and effective arrangements can help staff in the sector to speak up and stop harm.”

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