New clear-cut commitment on safeguarding of people vulnerable to sexual exploitation for Australian Aid NGOs

17 Oct, 2018

In the first of two reviews commissioned by the peak-body of Australia’s aid and international NGOs, an external review of the peak-body’s Code of Conduct – initiated following UK reports of sexual misconduct in the aid sector – has recommended the inclusion of a clear-cut, high-level commitment for NGOs to advance the safeguarding of people vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.

The 122 members of the Australian peak-body – the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) – will vote on the proposed change to the Code at ACFID’s annual general meeting at the end of October. This will be a binding commitment on ACFID’s members.

Marc Purcell, CEO of ACFID, said:

“This commitment is a new cornerstone for greater leadership, accountability and a cultural shift for the prevention of sexual misconduct. It is one to which an ACFID-member, its governing body and its people can be held accountable.

“We are confident that giving it prominence like this – where we didn’t have it before – is a mandate for action and will accelerate improvements.

“We can’t pre-empt how our members choose to vote on this change, but they understand the seriousness of this issue and are determined to keep people safe from harm.”

The independent Code of Conduct Committee, which governs the ACFID Code, and ACFID’s Board have backed the high-level commitment.

If adopted at the AGM, the commitment will lead to strong and clearer accountability to stakeholders – the public, partners and local communities – as well as a clear process for addressing the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and an articulation of expected standards of behaviour of ACFID members’ staff.

This week, ACFID will also join the UK safeguarding summit alongside teams from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission at the invitation of the
UK Government.

Prior to attending the summit, Director of Development Effectiveness at ACFID, Sarah Burrows, said:

“Sexual exploitation and abuse of people in vulnerable situations such as those in conflict-zones or who live in extreme poverty, has a deeply traumatising impact and often there is no access to justice or redress. We recognise that codes and policies won’t be enough, so while this high-level commitment provides a strong framework for our members, it is part of more extensive change.”

ACFID has commissioned two reviews which have run concurrently since May 2018. The high-level commitment is the major conclusion of the first review examining the ACFID Code of Conduct. The conclusions of the second, independent review – which examines ACFID members’ practice – will be published in mid-November.

Burrows continued:

“Following the publication of the independent review by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, we will be developing a resourced implementation plan in line with the recommendations, as well as helping our members to meet the new requirements in the Code.

“The sector is committed to strengthening our systems, processes and practice. From ACFID’s perspective, the changes to the Code are the beginning of over 2 years of programmed activity. This will give this issue the focus it needs.”

ACFID will share information on its Code of Conduct, compliance regime and complaints mechanism with its UK counterpart BOND and UK-based NGOs at the safeguarding summit, as well as holding discussions with the Department for International Development.

Marc Purcell added:

“The prevention of sexual misconduct will be an ongoing challenge for all of us, but ACFID’s Code of Conduct has created a stronger sector by raising the bar on transparency and accountability. We think there are experiences and approaches which we can share which are of value to the UK sector as they look at their own practice.

“For over 20 years, ACFID’s members have chosen to regulate their work through the ACFID Code of Conduct and it has been continually tested, so it is current, relevant and applicable. We will use the reports that have come to light this year to build on our Code again and further ensure accountability; drive prevention; and change behaviour.”

In addition to the high-level commitment, the external review of the Code recommends changes to improve the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in six focus areas: leadership and culture; staff conduct and awareness; accountability to primary stakeholders; incident reporting and investigations management; working with partners; and addressing gender and power.

The Code of Conduct Committee will consider the findings of the independent review and may make further recommendations to improve the ACFID Code to complement those already set out in the external review.

Media Contact

For further information and interview requests, please contact Tim Watkin on 0401 721 064 or at [email protected]