U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt speaks to an aid worker during a visit to a World Food Programme warehouse in Djibouti. Photo by: Benet Coulber / DFID / CC BY

LONDON — British lawmakers have welcomed steps taken by the Department for International Development to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector, but have called on DFID to play a stronger role in holding other actors to account.

Their comments come as the United Kingdom’s aid agency published its official response on Thursday to the findings of a six-month inquiry by the International Development Committee, a cross-party parliamentary group that scrutinizes aid spending.

The IDC inquiry, completed in July, was launched in response to the revelations about Oxfam earlier this year that sparked a slew of allegations of sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in the aid sector. The review looked both at abuse of recipients by aid workers and United Nations peacekeeping troops; and at the abuse and harassment of aid workers themselves by fellow staff.

DFID has positioned itself as taking a leading role in finding safeguarding solutions for the aid sector and swiftly hosted a U.K.-focused safeguarding summit in March, followed by an international summit in October.

In its response to IDC, DFID said it will co-chair a working group on safeguarding within the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a group that includes most major aid donors.

IDC members said they welcomed DFID’s leadership on safeguarding but were unsatisfied with some of the department’s responses to their inquiry, and have already written to development minister Penny Mordaunt seeking clarification.

The main concern is that DFID might not follow up on some of the many commitments and pledges made during the recent safeguarding summit. “As is clear from our report, the committee is intent on following progress in this area to prevent the past pattern of reforms that seemed to run out of steam once the immediate scandal had abated,” the IDC letter states.

In particular, IDC members are worried that DFID may not do enough to ensure commitments made by NGOs, governments, and others, are implemented. The committee wants the department to help set up an accountability mechanism to “track progress against the commitments made at the Safeguarding Summit across the various elements of the aid sector represented.”

MPs also pushed DFID to make sure that other aid-spending government departments are following its updated safeguarding policies.

However, in its response, DFID said that it “cannot ensure it happens given that each department is accountable for its own ODA spend.” It said it has provided guidance on safeguarding to other departments, but IDC wants DFID to go further by “taking steps to assess whether, and in what way, the endorsements received from other departments are being translated into action.”

The committee also expressed its ”disappointment” that safeguarding investigations related to DFID staff and programs are still being conducted by the Internal Audit Department’s Counter Fraud Section, which has limited experience in handling safeguarding cases, the letter stated.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.