Susanna Moorehead, chair of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee. Photo by: ODI / CC BY-NC

NEW YORK — Thirty of the world’s major aid donors agreed on a new standard on preventing sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment Friday, vowing to hold each other to account for improving their procedures.

The recommendation from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee — the group that sets the rules for the world’s biggest donors — is not legally binding, but DAC chair Susanna Moorehead told Devex it would feed into the committee’s peer review process.  

“It is a first critically important step of sending a very clear signal that in the development and humanitarian sectors, this is no longer acceptable.”

— Susanna Moorehead, chair, OECD DAC

It comes almost two years after safeguarding allegations first shook the sector, kicking off the #AidToo movement.

“I’m not going to lie, this is not going to change attitudes overnight, but I do think that it is a first critically important step of sending a very clear signal that in the development and humanitarian sectors, this is no longer acceptable,” Moorehead said.

“We are going to develop and support a survivor and victim-centered approach. We are going to establish reporting and response procedures to enhance prevention [and] we’re going to be doing a lot of training, awareness-raising, international coordination.”

Asked what a “victim-centered approach” would mean in practice, one DAC member told Devex: “You could say that needs more analysis, but definitions are risky as they are inflexible and don't adapt to the individual cases, so in a way, I think it is better to stay flexible.”

The recommendation states that donors should “take special consideration of vulnerable groups, including women and children, as well as people most at risk of discrimination on the basis of, for example, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age or religion.”

The same DAC member said there were still questions about how the focus on vulnerable groups would work. “Will members tailor policies to the different beneficiary groups they work with? The language is in [the recommendation], so I guess while introducing internal reforms they are tasked with thinking about it.”

Moorehead said the recommendation was not overly prescriptive, leaving it to DAC members “to develop their own guidelines, principles, internal processes.”

However, she said, “if there were a very strong demand from members for the kind of framework-making that we often do, then obviously we would want to respond to that positively.”

Mike Wright, director of membership and communications at U.K. NGO network Bond, told Devex the recommendation was a welcome sign that DAC is taking safeguarding seriously.

However, he said more clarity was needed on which preexisting standards DAC was committing to, and how INGOs could include safeguarding in their budgets.

Moorehead praised the speed with which the recommendation was prepared and passed, saying many aid agencies were “shocked and ashamed” by recent stories of abuse and that a quick response was the best way to ensure the entire sector is not tarnished.

She said sexual predators were drawn to work that gives them access to vulnerable people, but that “as a development profession, we’ve come out loud and clear and really out front setting an example to many sectors that you need to hold yourself collectively to account.”

Some aid agencies have safeguarding teams where incidents can be reported, but they do not always work effectively and not all operators have well-established internal structures.

“The great strength of this recommendation is that we will be able to do a lot of peer learning,” Moorehead said. “To look at members who are already ahead of the game on this, who can share with others who perhaps haven’t given it quite so much thought.”

The DAC member who spoke to Devex identified the U.K., Australia, and the Netherlands as among the leaders on safeguarding best practice: “The Netherlands and U.K. are changing every contract. Australia have a whole new policy already agreed.”

Moorehead said discussions were underway at DAC to make sure the committee dedicates adequate time and resources to ensuring the recommendation is implemented.

“We are also going to need to make sure that it is adequately resourced when the implementation either proves quite difficult, or most important of all, to make sure that we are then learning from the implementation and publicizing what works, and to be honest [about] what doesn’t, too,” Moorehead said.

About the authors

  • Vince Chadwick

    Vince Chadwick is the Brussels Correspondent for Devex. He covers the EU institutions, member states, and European civil society. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, he was social affairs reporter for The Age newspaper, before moving to Europe in 2013. He covered breaking news, the arts and public policy across the continent, including as a reporter and editor at POLITICO Europe.
  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.