Aid charities have made disappointing progress on measures to improve safeguarding, particularly in relation to whistleblowing, a committee of MPs has concluded.
The House of Commons International Development Committee has today published a follow-up to last year’s report on sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.
It investigates the aid sector's progress in developing safeguards and supporting victims of sexual exploitation and abuse in the wake of revelations of serious misconduct in 2018.
Today’s report also calls on the international development network Bond to monitor its 400 members to establish which ones publish annual figures for sexual exploitation and abuse allegations received and information on the outcomes, which prompted a critical response from Bond.
"Whilst we recognise that there have been efforts across the aid sector to improve safeguarding since early 2018, we are disappointed in the progress made to date in several key areas," the report says.
It adds that committee members "have not yet seen sufficient attention being given to improving the effectiveness of whistleblowing policies and we are concerned that the importance of protecting whistleblowers has so far been downplayed".
The report says the audit of whistleblowing practices agreed at the safeguarding summit that was co-hosted by the Charity Commission and the Department for International Development in March 2018 "has seemingly been shelved".
It urges Bond and DfID to address this by suggesting they "conduct and publish the systematic audit of whistleblowing practices across the sector, previously agreed in March 2018".
The MPs also call for safeguarding to be built into every programme DfID funds where there are safeguarding risks.
Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, accused the MPs of overlooking progress.
"It is a shame that months of hard work from the NGO sector to up its game across a wide range of aspects of safeguarding seems to have been overlooked in the committee’s report," she said.
"The work that Bond has been doing with our members has focused first and foremost on making sure NGOs know what to do when handling complaints, reporting safeguarding incidents, recruitment and references, and transparency, as well as supporting improved governance, leadership and culture."
Draper added that whistleblowing was a last resort and "shouldn’t be the first option for reporting abuse".
She said: "In taking urgent action, the sector inevitably had to choose priorities.
"In the case of reporting and accountability, we had to prioritise helping NGOs to get stronger and comprehensive systems established for report handling now, rather than focussing on an audit of what has been in place for whistleblowing in the past."
Draper was also critical of the MPs' recommendation that Bond should encourage members to publish annual data on sexual exploitation and abuse allegations and to monitor the findings.
"As a voluntary membership body and not a regulatory body such as the Charity Commission, we simply do not have the authority to make this compulsory or force NGOs to share the numbers of allegations received and information about the outcomes with us," she said.
Draper added that Bond promoted greater transparency on safeguarding by encouraging members to detail their actions in their annual reports.
"We expect to see more and more NGOs including this information in their upcoming 2018/19 annual reports," she said.
A DfID spokesman said: "We will continue to take robust action and are making sure UK aid doesn’t go to organisations that fall short of our expected standards."