Press release

International Development Secretary calls on UK aid agencies to share data on staff misconduct

The International Development Secretary has called on all UK aid agencies to join a data-sharing scheme which stops perpetrators of sexual abuse from moving around the sector undetected.

  • Tougher screening system stops people guilty of sexual misconduct moving around aid sector
  • International Development Secretary calls for all UK aid agencies to join the UK backed scheme
  • Major charities including Oxfam and Save The Children have already signed up

The International Development Secretary has called on all UK aid agencies to join a data-sharing scheme which stops perpetrators of sexual abuse from moving around the sector undetected.

The UK backed system is designed to stop charity workers guilty of sexual misconduct moving from job to job. It was launched in January 2019 in the aftermath of the charity safeguarding scandal.

Today the new International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the scheme was working, but more UK aid agencies needed to join up to make it even more effective.

At present there are 15 members, but the ambition is to have 200 charities signed up by the end of the year. The success of the scheme depends on more aid agencies pledging to act as the eyes and ears of the aid community.

The scheme meant that recruiting organisations requested data from previous employers at least 2,600 times last year.

Figures released today for 2019 show that at least 36 people were rejected for jobs because the scheme revealed negative or absent misconduct data.

Although criminal record checks are standard practice in the aid sector many examples of sexual misconduct don’t meet the criminal threshold for abuse which enables people to avoid prosecution – for example where behaviour does not break a law in the country in which they’re working, but would likely break the employer code of conduct.

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:

“It is sickening to think perpetrators of sexual misconduct continue to play the system, moving from job to job to avoid detection.

“This system is trying to put a stop to that, but to have the best chance of succeeding we need as many charities on board as possible.

“I want to see all UK aid agencies signed up, so together we can work to stop vulnerable people being exploited, abused and harassed.”

Aid agencies have historically been reluctant to share such misconduct information with new employers for fear of breaching data protection rules.

The scheme is different because it provides a legal framework for employers to share information with each other without breaking the law.

Major charities have already signed up, including Oxfam and Save the Children, who between them hire hundreds of thousands of people.

DFID wants to see aid organisations in other countries sign up and the scheme extended to multilateral and private sector organisations.

Gareth Price-Jones, Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response, which is managing the scheme, said:

“We don’t want these individuals exploiting smaller or local organisations, so we’ve built the scheme from the ground up to be usable by any aid agency, from household names to small local partners.”

In addition to the misconduct scheme, DFID is working with INTERPOL and the UK’s ACRO Criminal Record Office on Project Soteria ensure better criminal records checks and promote information sharing between aid and law enforcement agencies. The department is also developing an aid worker passport so the identity and work history of all individuals in the aid sector can be checked more easily.

These initiatives combined will help clamp down on the tactics which perpetrators use to avoid detection. This can include regularly moving to new countries, exploiting the short-term deployments common in the aid sector, lying about their work history, avoiding organisations which require criminal records checks and even changing their name.

Notes to editors:

  • DFID has supported the development of the scheme since early 2018 through technical advice
  • The scheme is managed by the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) and is part of wider efforts led by DFID since early 2018 to improve safeguarding standards across the aid sector
  • There are 15 organisations currently signed up to the scheme:

    • ACT Alliance
    • CARE
    • Caritas Internationalis
    • CoolEarth
    • ICRC
    • ICVA
    • IFRC
    • InterSOS
    • Islamic Relief
    • Lutheran World Federation
    • Oxfam
    • Plan International
    • Save the Children
    • VSO
    • World Vision

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Published 25 February 2020