Sexual misconduct and the charity sector

The recent media attention surrounding humanitarian organisations as a result of the Oxfam Sexual Harassment scandal during the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti, has put a spotlight on the role of the charity sector in disaster and conflict situations, where those receiving aid are often extremely vulnerable. The scandal has opened a wider discussion around the extent to which policies and practices are followed by the humanitarian sector, with multiple organisations admitting to having a number of similar cases inside their organisation.

We all know that many charities do an amazing job when responding to disasters and conflict around the world. The importance and necessity of these organisations is undeniable, even more so in countries where government and civil society do not have the capacity to respond on their own.This does not mean, however, that the humanitarian sector is exempt from taking action when misconduct happens. If anything, the Oxfam case has highlighted the need to implement higher safeguarding policies and accountabilities in the charity sector and this is where business can play a key role.

At Business in the Community, we know that many businesses are re-evaluating their corporate-charity partnerships, concerned that association might lead to a damaged reputation for the business. We believe that terminating business-humanitarian partnerships now is not the answer. Not only do businesses have a role to play in alleviating poverty and suffering and achieving sustainability in the world, it is also in their best interest to ensure healthy and resilient communities throughout their supply chains. This is reflected throughout the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global policy framework in which the private sector plays a crucial role.

The business community needs to use its knowledge and skills to help drive this agenda and in doing so, promote better control measures in the charity sector. One way of doing this is to ask for increased transparency and monitoring around the support business provide in humanitarian situations, whether they’re financial contributions, tangible products or resources, or services such as skilled expertise. This could for example be achieved through:

- Setting monthly or quarterly reporting requirements which include the adherence to certain accountabilities such as safeguarding
- Commissioning a formal review of a partner’s on-the-ground operations conducted by a business’ internal audit team or external consultants
- Ensuring an evaluation is conducted at the end of a humanitarian response or programme to understand the impact and capture lessons learned to feed into future partnerships.

Business in the Community's Chief Executive Officer, Amanda McKenzie, feels there is a clear strategic issue overarching the referencing procedures. Charities and other organisations need to shore up and ensure that reference taking and giving is carried out responsibly. What would be the responsible business approach to giving and taking references? 

All this will create new layers of accountability for those organisations receiving support from business, and hopefully reduce the probability of elicit cases of misconduct. Where large institutional donors such as the Department for International Development have tightened their requirements following this scandal, so should business providing support to humanitarian organisations.

In addition, businesses should ensure that at all times they adhere to key humanitarian principles and standards (including Sphere and Core Humanitarian Standard), both of which set out clear standards on Protection and Do No Harm in humanitarian response.

These issues do not only affect charities. Our Project 28-40 research showed that 12% of women in the UK had experienced sexual harassment in the past three years alone and we know that LGBT women, ethnic minority women and women with disabilities are more frequently targets of sexual harassment. Yet only half of women agreed that their workplaces have good policies around harassment. Nearly a third disagreed. Organisations need to close the gap between policies, perceptions and reality and review their policies and procedures, by establishing informal and formal confidential reporting processes. As well as monitoring and investigating any allegations of sexual harassment and by ensuring that the processes and culture is inclusive and supportive.

In BITC’s latest Guidance for Business, Addressing International Disaster Relief and Resilience, you can get more information on how to develop a partnership with a humanitarian organisation, as well as the Humanitarian Principles & Quality Standards.