A Save the Children latrine in Jacmel, Haiti. Photo by: Susan Warner / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — The United Kingdom government is allowing Save the Children to resume bidding for government aid contracts after a sexual misconduct scandal saw the charity withdraw itself from the process more than two years ago.

The charity, one of the largest in the U.K., has taken “significant steps” to improve its safeguarding and now meets Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office standards, according to a statement from the department.

Save the Children, along with Oxfam, were two of the biggest NGOs to become embroiled in a wave of sexual misconduct scandals that rocked the development sector in 2018, leading to a landmark summit on safeguarding and promises of reform.

But two years on, sexual harassment, exploitation, and abuse is still said to be widespread, though often unreported, in the sector.  

A Charity Commission report released in March said Save the Children had “mismanaged” allegations of sexual misconduct and “let down” complainants and the public, though it acknowledged progress had also been made.

“Save the Children has accepted and acted on all the Charity Commission’s recommendations. We will continue to strive for a working culture built on kindness, respect, and fairness,” said Kevin Watkins, chief executive at Save the Children U.K.

The steps taken to improve its safeguarding include improved training, increasing the amount of human resources staff focused on safeguarding, and introducing “a new set of behaviors” expected from its staff in leadership positions, according to the statement.

“In spite of promises of good intentions from the [aid] sector, it is not obvious that tangible new steps have been taken to protect aid recipients.”

— Sarah Champion, chair, International Development Committee

The charity will also join the Misconduct Disclosure Scheme, which allows aid sector employers to share data to identify and prevent sexual abusers from working in the industry.

The Charity Commission is yet to complete the follow-up process on its review of Oxfam, which is still voluntarily withdrawn from bidding on U.K. government contracts. 

“We take a zero tolerance approach to sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation, and we are taking action to stamp it out of the aid sector to protect the most vulnerable people,” said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

He added: “We have robust measures in place to make sure any charities receiving U.K. aid have strong safeguarding policies, and it remains a top priority in the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.”

Momentum on tackling sexual misconduct has also come from the International Development Committee of politicians, who monitor U.K. development policy. The committee has opened an inquiry into what the aid sector should do next to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse, as “in spite of promises of good intentions from the [aid] sector, it is not obvious that tangible new steps have been taken to protect aid recipients,” according to its chair, Sarah Champion.

IDC is currently running a survey to identify what changes should be made.

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.