LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Save the Children failed its female staff in its handling of sexual misconduct complaints against senior employees, the British charity’s former chairman said on Tuesday.
Alan Parker, who was chairman of Save the Children U.K. at the time of the complaints, made the comments to British lawmakers conducting an inquiry launched in March after the aid sector was rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct.
Parker resigned in April, eight months before the end of his term, as Save the Children faced controversy over its response to complaints about ex-chief executive Justin Forsyth and former policy chief Brendan Cox.
Asked if he accepted that women working for the charity were failed during his 10-year chairmanship, Parker said: “They were, and I as chairman at the time must take responsibility for that”.
In February, Cox said he had made mistakes and behaved in a manner that caused some women hurt and offence when he was working at Save the Children. He resigned in September 2015.
Days later the charity said concerns had been raised about inappropriate comments and behavior by Forsyth in 2011 and before he left the agency in 2015.
Reviews in both cases resulted in “unreserved apologies” to the women involved but the human resources processes had not been followed in every aspect, the charity said.
Forsyth subsequently resigned as the deputy director of the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF), saying he did not want coverage of past mistakes to damage the organization.
Parker told MPs on the International Development Committee he was pretty certain that harassment claims against Forsyth were not mentioned to head-hunters looking to recruit him for his new role, as the cases had been settled informally.
“I think it is the policy of the organization not to mention things if they haven’t been subject to a formal disciplinary process,” Parker said.
He denied being friends with Forsyth, something media reports suggested might have affected how the case was dealt with, characterizing their relationship as professional.
In February, Forsyth’s successor Kevin Watkins called for a global screening system for the aid sector to keep sexual predators out of humanitarian operations. nL8N1QG67E
A similar tool was announced by the U.N. earlier this month.
The aid sector was rocked earlier this year by reports that some staff at Oxfam, one of the biggest disaster relief charities, paid for sex in Haiti during a relief mission after a 2010 earthquake.
Charities have since pledged to overhaul their approach to dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment.
An exclusive survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in February found more than 120 staff from leading global charities were fired or lost their jobs in 2017 over sexual misconduct.
Parker said Save the Children had fallen short in its response.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize again personally, unreservedly and on behalf of the organization,” he said.
Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org