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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Aid sector predators told ‘time’s up’ by UK government

Britain’s International Development Secretary vowed to bring abusers to justice at a safeguarding summit in London

Britain's International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has organised a summit to tackle sexual exploitation in the aid sector. Nick Ansell/ AP
Britain's International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has organised a summit to tackle sexual exploitation in the aid sector. Nick Ansell/ AP

Predators working in the aid sector have been warned there is “no hiding place” by the UK’s International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt.

Ms Mordaunt, who was speaking at a safeguarding summit for British charities in central London on Monday, pledged to root out sexual exploiters from organisations.

"We will find you, we will bring you to justice. Your time is up", she said.

Representatives from British aid agencies were ordered to come together to find ways to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse exposed in the wake of the Oxfam scandal.

Ms Mordaunt said 80 people have come forward to say they have been harmed or have been placed at risk of harm in aid organisations since an investigation published in February by The Times newspaper revealed Oxfam aid workers had used prostitutes in earthquake-hit Haiti.

The cabinet minister said charity watchdog the Charity Commission had received safeguarding incident reports from 26 charities since February 12, having written to 179 aid organisations to demand assurances of their commitment to combating sexual exploitation.

The Charity Commission said it had seen a doubling of safeguarding incident reporting, beyond the charities written to by Ms Mordaunt, over the past three weeks.

"We are now receiving around 100 a week, and the increase relates specifically to reports of safeguarding issues or incidents, again covering a wide spectrum in terms of their nature and levels of seriousness," a Charity Commission spokesperson said.

Ms Mordaunt, who has previously threatened to withdraw government funding from any charity which fails to combat sexual exploitation in its ranks, said it was time for aid agencies to win back public trust.

“Now is the time for action. The aid sector needs to ensure it is meeting its duty of care to the world’s most vulnerable people. It needs to be honest about past mistakes. It must do all it can to win back the trust of the British public.

“This summit is a crucial moment to learn lessons from the past and drive up standards across the sector,” she said.

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Those attending the summit on Monday were tasked with introducing new standards for vetting and referencing across the sector as well as ensuring survivors and whistle-blowers are given the support they need. They discussed the creation of an independent body to promote external scrutiny and ways to change organisation culture to address power imbalances.

Delegates were also asked to sign a joint statement setting out their key principles and agree on a set of practical actions to take forward.

Baroness Stowell, Chair of the UK’s Charity Commission, said: “I am encouraged to see leaders of international aid agencies coming together at today’s summit with a firm commitment to bringing about cultural change in charities and making the protection of people their top priority. The Charity Commission will work constructively with charities to identify practical changes and help make them work.

“But however noble the cause, it will never justify means which fall below basic standards of conduct expected of any organisation. And if we are to restore public trust and the nation’s pride in what charities achieve, we have to show that’s what we understand.”