DFID must remain 'rigorous' on safeguarding amid pandemic

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Secretary of State for International Development Anne-Marie Trevelyan arrives at the Cabinet Office in London, ahead of a meeting to discuss coronavirus. Photo by: PA Images / Reuters

LONDON — The U.K. Department for International Development’s commitment to safeguarding will not be diluted by the coronavirus pandemic, its leaders have said.

DFID Secretary of State Anne-Marie Trevelyan and acting Permanent Secretary Nick Dyer told U.K. politicians that safeguarding was a nonnegotiable issue, although nongovernmental organizations implicated in recent scandals had been funded under “exceptional” circumstances.

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“We’ve had a look at our risk appetite ... and how much risk we are prepared to take as an organization [during the COVID-19 response],” Dyer said. “One of the things we are not prepared to shift on is our low tolerance of safeguarding risk.”

He continued: “At times of crisis, it's quite often the most vulnerable people [who] are even more exposed to safeguarding threats. We’ve been very clear to the organization [DFID] that we just won’t tolerate that and that we are just as concerned about it at this moment as we always have been.”

Insufficient safeguarding against sexual abuse and harassment has been a running sore for the development sector in recent years. Major NGOs including Save the Children UK and Oxfam GB temporarily withdrew from bidding on DFID contracts after being implicated in scandals.

Trevelyan — who is two months into her tenure as secretary of state for international development — said DFID had to be “no-holds-barred rigorous” on sexual misconduct in development, which she branded “entirely unacceptable.”

“At times of crisis, it's quite often the most vulnerable people [who] are even more exposed to safeguarding threats.”

— Nick Dyer, acting permanent secretary, DFID

“I won’t see funding going into anything we don’t have the relevant comfort on safeguarding for. The department has been very rigorous. … We have, on an exceptional basis, funded one or two specific projects in certain areas where those NGOs have the reach and are the only ones at the moment,” she said.

“But I’ve been very clear with the department [that] there is no lifting of the overall general funding until all the reviews have been done, the Charity Commission is comfortable with them, and indeed that we are comfortable that the changes in policy and delivery of safeguarding in those organizations is as good as [it] needs to be.”

The remarks were welcomed by Bond, the network for U.K. NGOs. "We agree that safeguarding risks can increase during crises or emergencies, so it is good to see that this remains a priority for the secretary of state," said Stephanie Draper, Bond’s chief executive. "Ensuring those who are most vulnerable are protected requires resources and funding. We would like to see donors working in genuine partnerships with those they fund to enable the flexibility needed."

The leaders’ comments came at an inquiry conducted by the International Development Committee, DFID’s parliamentary watchdog. Trevelyan and IDC Chair Sarah Champion agreed to meet later to examine an Interpol initiative set up as a “network of knowledge” about perpetrators of sexual violence.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.