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Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector: next steps inquiry launched

8 July 2020

This Committee agreed early in this Parliament to draw up a comprehensive re-examination of progress taken to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector. Our focus is the aid recipients who become victims and survivors of abuse at the hands of individuals working in the sector.

This inquiry will consider the support needed by victims and survivors to secure justice and rebuild their lives when they have experienced abuse, what can be done to change the culture in the aid sector to prevent it from occurring in the first place, and how the new Foreign Affairs and Development Office (FCDO) should take this work forward.

Background

In February 2018 our predecessor committee started working on sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, holding an oral evidence session in light of the scandal in Haiti and then launching a full inquiry in March 2018, as the scale of the problem became apparent to them. It published a wide-ranging report in July 2018 which put numerous recommendations to the Government to help tackle the problem. That Committee undertook follow-up work on this issue, including two oral evidence sessions and a follow-up report published in October 2019 which set out the Committee’s disappointment at the lack of progress in key areas.

The Department for International Development (DFID) held a safeguarding summit in October 2018 during which it signed up to a number of donor commitments. It has set up a Safeguarding Unit and we also aware of the various steps that NGOs, the private sector, multilateral organisations, including the UN have taken.

Chair's comments

Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP said:

“I have listened in horror at how the aid sector is targeted by perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse. In many cases, extremely vulnerable people are taken advantage of and abused by the very people they trusted to support them.
 
“The fact that this inquiry is the third piece of work the Committee will have undertaken on sexual exploitation and abuse in two years tells me that this issue continues to rumble on as no one is prepared to challenge the culture that perpetuates it. 
 
“The Committee investigate what progress has been made since the UK’s international safeguarding summit in 2018. We will look at whether aid recipients, victims and survivors know their rights and feel properly supported. Crucially, we will help identify what work needs to be done by the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as it takes on responsibility for this in September to end this abuse once and for all.”

Scope of the inquiry

This inquiry will look at what progress has been made since the 2018 inquiry into Sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector. It will focus on how the new FCDO can contribute to tangible progress for victims and survivors, in particular how they are empowered to report the abuse and how their complaints are taken forward so that perpetrators are disciplined and/or prosecuted, and victims’ rights are protected. The inquiry will also look at the processes and procedures linked to this, including protection for individuals who speak up, enforcing safeguarding standards, and how DFID holds it implementing partners accountable for their safeguarding practices.

Persons and organisations are invited to submit written evidence addressing one or more of the specific issues listed below. Submissions received which contain specific allegations may be referred to the appropriate authorities.

Terms of Reference

Support for victims and survivors

  • What mechanisms are in place to enable victims and survivors to report instances of sexual exploitation and abuse at the hands of the UN, other multilateral aid organisations, development aid NGOs, charities and the private sector (aid actors)?
  • How do aid actors guarantee that when abuse is reported, it is dealt with sensitively and objectively, and appropriate action is taken against the perpetrator if the complaint is upheld? 
  • How do victims and survivors access the psychological support and legal advice they need? 
  • Are victims and survivors more likely to come forward now than they were before the issue re-gained prominence in 2018?  
  • What action should the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office take to improve reporting mechanisms, strengthen independent investigations and oversight, support victims and survivors and provide access to justice?

Speaking up

  • What is your assessment of policies enabling reporting and speaking up across the sector? Are you confident that those wishing to report sexual exploitation and abuse are empowered to speak out? 
  • How well are reports of abuse acted on? Are they dealt with promptly, impartially and fairly through robust investigation and disciplinary processes?
  • What measures, legal and otherwise, have been taken since 2018 to actively support whistleblowers who disclose sexual exploitation and abuse?  
  • Are whistleblowers adequately protected from retaliation and are those who retaliate against whistleblowers held to account?

Culture change

  • What tangible actions have aid actors taken since 2018 to address the workplace culture that had enabled abuse to persist? 
  • Are there still challenges that need to be addressed for culture change to occur?

Standards

  • Would you recommend any changes to the relevant standards and certification schemes in the sector, such as the Core Humanitarian Standard, Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative, UN Minimum Operating Standards and Keeping Children Safe, to ensure that organisations maintain adequate safeguarding procedures?

Accountability

  • What are the repercussions for organisations that are in receipt of UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) and are found to have insufficient policies and practices in place to detect, prevent, and tackle abuse when it arises? 
  • What requirements does DFID currently have of implementing agencies with regards to safeguarding procedures and what actions should the new FCDO take to ensure that all the actors it is funding uphold the highest standards possible? 
  • What is your view of the employment-cycle initiatives for tackling sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH); the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme, Project Soteria and the Aid Worker Identification Scheme? Do you think this is the most effective way of tackling SEAH? 
  • Is there scope for aid actors to consult the register of child abusers to ensure they are not recruiting known offenders?

New department

What are the opportunities for improvement under the new FCDO which will bring the Safeguarding Unit, existing initiatives to tackle SEAH, and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI) programme under the same department and Secretary of State?

Written evidence

The deadline for written submissions is Wednesday 19 August 2020. The Committee values diversity and seeks to ensure this where possible. We encourage members of under-represented groups to submit written evidence.

The Committee considers requests for reasonable adjustments to its usual arrangements for taking evidence and publishing material, to enhance access. Please contact indcom@parliament.uk or telephone 0207 219 1221. 

Further information

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