LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The aid sector needs an independent database and whistleblower system to stop workers accused of sexual misconduct hiding such allegations to find jobs with other charities, experts said, as a sex scandal sparked by Oxfam ricochets through the industry.
Senior aid officials have been able to duck complaints and confirmed cases of sexual harassment and abuse, and continue to work in the sector knowing charities might hide such information for fear of losing support and funding, industry experts said.
The deputy director of the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, Justin Forsyth, resigned on Thursday after apologizing for inappropriate behavior towards women in 2011 and 2015 in his previous role as chief executive of Save the Children UK.
On Friday, the U.N. agency for HIV/AIDS said deputy head Luiz Loures had decided not to renew his contract when it ends in March. A spokesman said it was not reasonable to link his departure to an unsubstantiated allegation of sexual harassment.
Charities are pledging to overhaul their approach to dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct in light of a scandal that hit headlines after reports that staff at British charity Oxfam paid for sex while working in Haiti after a earthquake in 2010.
Yet reforms must go beyond individual charities and lead to sector-wide action to stop “serial perpetrators floating around the system,” said Megan Nobert, founder of Report the Abuse, a group that collects data on sexual abuse against aid workers.
“We need to figure how we develop mechanisms where we can share information,” said Lindsay Coates, head of InterAction, a 180-strong alliance of U.S.-based charities and aid groups.
“(We need to) reduce risk so that individuals are not shifted from one organization to another,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
An independent whistleblowing mechanism would allow the “vast majority of good aid workers to report the horrible actions of their colleagues,” said Andrew MacLeod of Hear Their Cries, a charity fighting sex abuse in the aid sector.
The ex-Oxfam official at the heart of the sex abuse scandal, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, got a job with Action Against Hunger in 2012 despite being fired from medical charity Merlin in 2004 and investigated for sexual misconduct by Oxfam in Haiti in 2011.
In the case of Forsyth, UNICEF said it had not been aware of the complaints made against him at Save the Children - where internal reviews led to “unreserved” apologies to the women.
A Save the Children spokeswoman said the charity gave basic information about Forsyth’s employment history, and that there had been no findings of misconduct or sanctions against him.
“It has become increasingly obvious in the last few weeks that the charity sector needs a more robust system,” she said.
Britain’s aid ministry and charity watchdog say they will next month hold a safeguarding summit to meet with aid groups and discuss measures such as an aid worker accreditation scheme.
More than 120 staff from leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs last year over sexual misconduct, found an exclusive survey this week by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.