Learning from others’ mistakes Part 4 – Red Cross and Plan International

Hard on the heels of the Oxfam admissions last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Plan International have also uncovered sexual misconduct by some of their staff.

ICRC director-general Yves Daccord issued a statement on 23 February, advising that 21 staff members have resigned or been fired since 2015 after violating policy by paying for sexual services. Two others did not have their contracts renewed because of suspected sexual misconduct.

Mr Daccord said, “The ICRC has more than 17,000 staff members worldwide. We are concerned that incidents that should be reported have not yet been reported, or were reported but not properly handled. We are taking action to address this.”

Plan International issued a statement declaring their “commitment to stamp out abuse and exploitation” on 21 February.  The statement describes “abuses of power” by their staff and associates in the following terms:

“From 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017, we had 6 confirmed cases of sexual abuse and exploitation of children by staff or associates. One involved a staff member and the other 5 were associates. The staff member was dismissed without a reference and contracts of associates were terminated. Five out of the total 6 cases were of a criminal nature in the local contexts and were reported to the local authorities. In all cases we linked victims and families with local support networks including but not limited to medical and psychosocial support. 

In the same period, there were 9 confirmed incidents of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct by staff. This resulted in 7 dismissals. The other 2 staff, whose misconduct amounted to use of inappropriate language, were given a warning. All incidents involved adults.”

Following their apology and an outline of existing measures to set and maintain standards of behaviour, they outline the ‘improvements’ they are implementing as follows:

  • “We are training dedicated staff to better manage investigations related to breaches of our policies, including sexual harassment and misconduct.
  • In November 2017 we put in place a central reporting mechanism for sexual misconduct. 
  • We are reviewing our incident reporting and management systems to make them stronger
  • We have strengthened our Code of Conduct, specifically to prohibit staff from exchanging money, employment, goods or services for sex, and to outlaw any other forms of humiliating, degrading, or exploitative behaviour.
  • We are applying a gender responsive safeguarding lens to our programme and influencing work. This will help us respond to the specific risks and needs of differing genders, addressing forms of discrimination and violence which may arise from gender bias and abuse of power.”

Aid agencies are now conferring about the steps they must take to prevent personnel who have been dismissed (or not renewed) due to misconduct or criminal behaviour being engaged by other aid organisations.

Board briefing opportunity

To assist your Board or Audit and Risk Committee to consider the governance lessons these scandals offer your organisation, you can arrange a briefing session by contacting me on 0419 347 599 or by email (garry.pearson@polgovpro.com.au).


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