What development professionals need to know about 'duty of care'

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 08 March 2016

Samer, a Norwegian Refugee Council aid worker, speaks to a group of Syrian refugees. What do the words “duty of care” mean today, and what should you be asking your employer? Photo by: Sam Tarling / Norwegian Refugee Council / CC BY-ND

Talk of aid organizations’ duty of care toward their staff resurfaced when aid worker Steve Dennis sued former employer Norwegian Refugee Council for gross negligence — and eventually won.

Lawsuits against international aid organizations are nothing new. Take the case of former American aid worker Flavia Wagner, who was kidnapped in the Darfur region in 2010. She filed a case against her then employer, Samaritan’s Purse, for failing to provide adequate security.

The difference, however, is that Wagner settled out of court, a practice that Ike Evans, a seasoned international security consultant in the nonprofit sector, said is common in the aid industry and makes Dennis’ case more the exception than the rule.

“Since we’re having really serious discussions on duty of care, nobody’s won. How many cases have you heard of wherein the NGO worker sued the organization for failure to provide adequate security or aftercare, and doesn’t settle?” he told Devex.

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.

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