Statement from the Australian Council for International Development on sexual misconduct reports in the international development sector

16 Feb, 2018

The incidents reported in the media have been deeply shocking and concerning. The vast majority of aid and humanitarian workers who obey the law and uphold values of integrity, accountability and respect are equally troubled and saddened by this news.

The behaviour of the individuals in question was appalling and it is utterly unacceptable that they would abuse their position of power. As organisations that exist to protect and work alongside vulnerable people, these reports strike at the heart of everything we do.

The community expectation of the sector is that we hold the highest standards in line with our values. ACFID and our members hold ourselves to the same standards and take this matter extremely seriously.

For 20 years ACFID’s members have chosen to hold themselves to standards and a compliance regime under ACFID’s Code of Conduct. It covers all aspects of international aid and development work, including the protection of vulnerable people. It has been continually tested and updated, so it is current, relevant and applicable to the environment and challenges we are seeing.

Under ACFID’s Code of Conduct and its compliance regime, our members have compulsory measures to vet staff and protect people with whom they work from abuse and exploitation.

Unlike the situation in the UK where there is no aid sector standard in place, ACFID’s Code of Conduct in conjuncture with strict Government requirements and Australian law provides a strong risk management regime in relation to these issues.

As a sector, we will not sit on our hands. We are reviewing our current guidance and safeguards under ACFID’s Code of Conduct and where required, will take steps to strengthen the system we have in place and ensure our members understand their responsibilities.

We are in an age where the unacceptable behaviour and actions of individuals and organisations have become public. We believe transparency plays a crucial role in driving prevention and the reduction of harm to vulnerable people.

As part of that work, we think it is important to set out the current measures and the further actions we will take. ACFID will continue to work with our members to ensure accountability; drive prevention; and change behaviours.

What we have in place

  • As with any individual or organisation, ACFID’s members – including their staff and volunteers – must obey the law in Australia and in the countries they operate.

Under ACFID’s Code of Conduct:

  • Members are required to have their own public complaints mechanism in place. In addition, ACFID has an independent complaints mechanism in place for reporting concerns about any of our members. If ACFID received a complaint regarding illegal activity it would be passed straight to the police or appropriate authority in the appropriate jurisdiction(s).
  • Further, this includes the requirement of a whistleblowing policy. Our members must enable staff and volunteers to make complaints and report wrongdoing through fair, transparent and accessible procedures.
  • ACFID’s members commit to having a documented Code of Conduct that specifies the values and expectations of professional conduct of all staff and volunteers. 
  • Protecting primary stakeholders from discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation or neglect is a core commitment required of our members in order to respect and protect human rights.
  • Safeguarding of children is paramount. This applies across all aspects of their work, including a documented code of conduct on child safeguarding and an incident report procedure consistent with relevant legislation. The Code obliges recruitment screening processes for all personnel in contact with children which include: criminal record checks; statutory declarations of local legal equivalent where criminal record checks are unavailable or unreliable; verbal referee checks; and behavioural-based interview questions.
  • Our members must provide staff with training on ACFID’s Code of Conduct, as well as any other standard that may be relevant to their role such as, the Core Humanitarian Standard and International Humanitarian Law.

Further actions ACFID will take

These actions include, but are not limited to the following:

  • ACFID has written to all of our members highlighting their responsibilities against the ACFID Code of Conduct and to review their application of the relevant standards to protect vulnerable people.
  • ACFID has elevated this issue to our board and independent Code of Conduct Committee as a matter of urgency to look at further action, where required. This will include measures which have been proactively proposed by our members.
  • ACFID is conferring with the Australian Government and its agencies to discuss ways in which we could work more closely together to eradicate this behaviour, such as, greater information sharing, vetting procedures, awareness-raising and provision of further guidance to our members.


Media Contact

For further information, contact Tim Watkin at [email protected] or on 0401 721 064.