The recent allegations and news reports of sexual misconduct and harassment within the international development sector have been both worrying and saddening.
As Director of Age International, I would like to reassure you of Age International’s strongest possible commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone who comes into contact with the charity – whether beneficiaries, staff or volunteers.
We know that older people can be particularly vulnerable
In our work, we are all too aware of the vulnerability of older people to neglect and abuse – be that physical, emotional, financial or sexual.
Protecting vulnerable older people, and helping to ensure that their rights are respected, is our priority and at the core of everything we do.
We work with older people around the world to make sure that their own voices are properly heard – within their communities, and at regional, national and international levels with decision makers.
Age International takes the safeguarding of vulnerable people extremely seriously
Age International is committed to setting an organisational culture that prioritises safeguarding. We do not tolerate sexual exploitation or abuse of any kind.
- Age International’s protection, safeguarding and whistleblowing policies are reviewed, approved and adopted by the Charity’s Board of Trustees. All staff must read, understand, and commit to them.
- These policies promote awareness of abuse and make sure staff understand how to ensure that the protection of vulnerable adults and children becomes a tangible part of daily and working life. They also stress a responsibility to report and respond to concerns of abuse.
- Programmes that we support are monitored on an on-going basis to provide Age International with the assurances we need about the implementation of our policies and approaches.
- All emergency response programmes are reviewed regularly to ensure that all necessary policies and procedures are in place and being implemented appropriately.
We will not be complacent
Together with other organisations in the sector, we are working to ensure that we have in place the best possible measures to protect the people we work with.
Achieving consistency in the implementation of our policies in the UK and in the overseas programmes we support is an on-going process, and we will take all available opportunities to review our systems, policies and organisational culture.
We regularly review our policies to make sure they are robust and fit for purpose. For example, our Safeguarding policy was reviewed and updated in January 2018. It will be submitted to the Board of Trustees for their approval and adoption at the next Board meeting in April 2018. In addition, all staff will undertake new, compulsory training on Safeguarding which is due to launch in March 2018.
We will look at what further steps to take in order to promote a culture that prioritises safeguarding, and to ensure that staff are confident to report incidents.
Finally, I would like to confirm our support of a statement drawn up by a number of UK NGOs, and to which we were pleased to add our name. The statement makes a number of commitments, and we will play our part in implementing them.
As organisations whose core aim is to help the most vulnerable people in the world, we must always confront abusive behaviour and the misuse of power. When it comes from individuals within our sector it is a double betrayal, not just of the people we exist to serve, but of the British people in whose name we operate. Although this is only the action of a small minority of people, it is nonetheless an issue that we will not allow to go unaddressed.
There can be no tolerance for the abuse of power, privilege or trust within our organisations or in our work. 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.
As we take every necessary step to right these deep wrongs, we also have a clear responsibility to ensure that the communities we seek to help are not the ones punished for our mistakes. The widespread distress and disappointment that we’ve heard in the past two weeks demonstrates 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.
Safeguarding is something that, as a sector, we have long taken very seriously and all our organisations have systems in place to prevent all forms of abuse and misconduct. However, we can never be complacent. We must do even more to protect the very people we were set up to help.
First and foremost we must continue to create an environment where people feel safe, and confident to report any behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable or which threatens them or their communities. That is why we are collectively announcing the following series of urgent and immediate measures:
- We will all increase the resources we devote to safeguarding – meeting our responsibility to protect our staff and beneficiaries.
- We will collectively review our current referencing systems so that people found to have abused their power or behaved inappropriately are not re-employed in the sector – including in INGOs, government agencies, the UN and other associated bilateral and domestic agencies.
- We will work with these authorities and regulatory bodies to ensure any individual caught abusing their power cannot do so again.
- We will work with the Government to ensure that we can overcome the legal and institutional barriers to rigorous background checks in the UK.
In taking these steps, we are also asking 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.
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.
Our collective mission is to do much more than that – the challenge we face in our own organisations is a challenge for the whole of society. This is something that requires leadership in every sector – and we ask people from all walks of life and all corners of our communities to help us to strengthen safeguards, tackle abuse and stand up for the vulnerable – and to call out inappropriate behaviour wherever we see it.
We are truly sorry that at times our sector has failed. We must and will do better.