Racism 'particularly pertinent' in aid organisations, parliamentary report finds

Racism is “particularly pertinent” for aid organisations, a report looking at racism in the aid sector has found.

The International Development Committee found that the roots of aid in colonialism and attitudes to racism in the UK have a significant effect on the work it does and how it's done.

“The aid sector does not operate in a vacuum. The different forms of discrimination that permeate British society manifest in the aid sector too. Racism is particularly pertinent for aid organisations because they work directly with individuals from around the world who are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Discriminatory attitudes within these organisations will have a negative impact on the communities they work with and the programmes they deliver,” it said.

Making assumptions

The report looked at how aid organisations looked at racism in the context of working with partners in-country, communications and storytelling, data on racism and diversity in the aid sector and building an equitable and inclusive aid sector.

It found that institutions in high income countries, such as the UK assume they have the knowledge and best practice to assist people in low- and middle-income countries.

“Due to a belief that these institutions represent the ‘gold standard’, local partners are often required to adapt to their way of working. Racist attitudes also play out in the narrative that local organisations are ‘high risk’ and need ‘capacity building’,” it said.

It also found that much of the terminology used in the sector has roots in colonialism, reinforcing the idea that ‘the West’ is the ideal.

Other conclusions include that the manner in which the cuts to UK aid took place has sent the “harmful message” that the UK does not care about the people affected, many of which are Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, and that public appeals that “depict the communities they serve as helpless and needy strip those communities of their dignity” contribute to a narrative that countries where they work are inferior to the UK.

Building an inclusive sector

Other findings showed that leaders and HR departments are ill equipped to deal with racism experienced by staff both in the UK and International aid sector, and acknowledges that collecting and publishing data on diversity in staffing is a “key element” of holding aid organisations to account.

It recommends that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) should require all organisations that it funds, with more than 50 staff, to publish diversity data, and all organisations, including private sector contractors with more than 50 staff, publish and measure ethnicity pay gap data.

The report acknowledges that the barriers to entering the sector for candidates from diverse backgrounds can be “considerable” but some aid organisations are taking action to increase diversity in their workforce but much more needs to be done.

“These processes are likely to be painful and difficult and will take courage on the part of leaders, managers, and staff to be open, honest and committed to change,” it said, adding that it is the responsibility of those in the sector who hold the most power to make these needed changes.

As a result of the report, the committee considered its own position in the British establishment and influence in the sector, making conclusions to the FCDO “but we acknowledge we do not have all the answers,” it said.

“We hope our inquiry and report will embolden other aid actors, including donors, non-governmental organisations, private sector contractors and international finance institutions to take the opportunity to appraise their own policies and practices to ensure they are operating in an anti-racist manner.”

The government has two months to respond to this report.

Read the full report here

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