LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s aid minister said on Monday the “grotesque” sex abuse scandal that has rocked the aid sector was a “wake up call” for agencies to get their houses in order, and warned the government would not fund those that failed to do so.
Oxfam came under attack after an expose by The Times newspaper this month revealed that staff paid for sex with prostitutes in Haiti after the country’s 2010 earthquake, with the fallout putting other aid charities under the spotlight.
“You cannot promote human rights or the dignity of every human being, whilst paying them for sex, and whilst funding an industry that exploits them,” Penny Mordaunt told the first major aid event since the scandal broke.
An exclusive survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation last week found more than 120 staff from leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs in 2017 over sexual misconduct.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement by women against sexual harassment and abuse, 21 global charities were asked to disclose sexual misconduct by staff and any job losses with some quick to release figures while others needed several prompts.
Save the Children and Oxfam gave figures in November. Others, such as ActionAid, Plan International and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published their data only last week ahead of a government deadline.
The ICRC said 23 staff members had left since 2015 over sexual misconduct, while ActionAid said it had recorded 22 such cases in the last five years with six resulting in dismissals.
Children’s aid charity Plan recorded six cases of sex abuse and child exploitation by staff and associates between July 2016 and June 2017, with action taken in all cases. A further nine incidents of sexual misconduct led to seven dismissals.
The International Rescue Committee said it would provide figures on Tuesday. Islamic Relief said it would publish its figures in its annual report in September. Action Against Hunger said it was urgently gathering the data.
Compassion International, Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Internationalis said they had received no reports of serious violations.
Mordaunt said charities had failed in their fundamental duty to prioritize the people they were supposed to help.
“We have a real opportunity now to do something lasting and to ... send a message to predatory individuals that the aid sector is not a safe haven for them,” Mordaunt told the conference organized by Bond, an umbrella group of international development organizations.
She said charities were complicit in the abuse by protecting those responsible, not tackling the problem or turning a blind eye as predatory individuals moved to other organizations.
She suggested the situation might have been exacerbated by fundraising pressures, which meant charities feared that reporting wrongdoing would hurt their work.
Britain has said it would deny cash to aid agencies that did not come clean on abuse, with Mordaunt saying other nations were keen to follow Britain’s example by linking funding to conduct.
Mordaunt said she was committed to a government commitment to spend the equivalent of 0.7 percent of economic output on foreign aid that makes Britain one of the world’s most generous donors, saying it was a moral duty but also benefited Britain.
The minister said the U.N. global development goals, which pledge to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, were at the heart of Britain’s international development vision and she would soon present a new plan focused on delivering the U.N. goals.
“It will require me to stop funding organizations that do not deliver our objectives, contribute to the (U.N.) goals, or live up to our standards ... it will put our beneficiaries first,” she added.
Reporting by Emma Batha, Additional Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Robert Carmichael and Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.