International aid charities have been issued with a formal regulatory alert to ensure they “address remaining weaknesses in keeping people safe”.
The Charity Commission has delivered the warning to overseas aid charities to ensure they are prioritising safeguarding.
While recognising steps the sector has taken in recent years “further work is needed to ensure transformative change”, said the regulator.
The alert applies to more than 5,000 international aid charities and includes guidance on ways to strengthen safeguarding procedures. This includes making it easier to report allegations of misconduct and abuse as well as taking a survivor centred approach to handling incidents.
International aid charities “must be alert to the risk of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse and should foster a culture committed to rooting it out”.
This includes clearly communicating what support is available to victims and survivors.
We've issued a formal alert to international aid charities, as further work is needed in preventing exploitation and abuse.— Charity Commission (@ChtyCommission) June 24, 2021
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Charity Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson said: “No-one should ever be exposed to abuse or exploitation, but when people are harmed while in the care of a charity, it undermines the very meaning of charity.
She added: “I know that many international aid charities, doing vital work in challenging environments, have worked hard to improve their safeguarding practices over recent years.
“But we continue to see cases of harm perpetrated by people in positions of power in charities working overseas.
“More needs to be done. Leaders of international aid charities need to ensure they have the systems and structures in place that prevent and root out harmful behaviour and empower victims and survivors to raise concerns.”
According to latest figures the Charity Commission received 5,730 reports of serious incidents in 2019/20, of which 3.411 related to safeguarding. This is nearly a 40% increase on the previous year.
Earlier this month Oxfam revealed that it had sacked three members of staff following an investigation into allegations of abuse of power in its operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.