Dear colleagues and Friends
It is with great concern that I speak to you today about two serious topics that we need to address jointly – ensuring safe and inclusive workplaces and promoting safe and inclusive humanitarian responses.
I want to talk today about how we, together, actively build workplaces that are free from harassment and sexual misconduct and how we, together, prevent sexual exploitation and abuse occurring during humanitarian responses.
The Secretary General and I agree on the importance and seriousness of these issues and are committed to comprehensively addressing them.
Colleagues, it is time to have a hard look inside our organizations – to be honest and open about these challenges and to stand shoulder to shoulder to address any problems we might find.
It is time to support and listen to our staff and volunteers – and to reach out to the affected populations we serve to make sure that their voices can also be heard.
We are increasingly learning from the #MeToo and the #AidToo campaigns – as well as the scandals that are now surrounding Oxfam and Save the Children – that harassment and sexual misconduct occur too frequently in our workplaces and also – very tragically – within our humanitarian responses.
We are also, unfortunately, increasingly learning that these behaviours often go undetected and unresolved – and that victims and survivors of these violations do not always get the support and respect they need and deserve.
Friends, these challenges are not new. Many committed people have been working on raising these issues and developing policies and practices for some time. Before we delve into what more we must do – and colleagues, my plea to you today is that we really must work together to do more – I would therefore first like to describe what we already have in place.
In the IFRC, we must foster and ensure an environment of zero tolerance for any form of harassment and sexual misconduct. All IFRC staff are bound by a strong Code of Conduct, Anti-Harassment Guidelines and a Whistle-blower protection policy.
IFRC has a confidential system for reporting staff and volunteer concerns – internally for IFRC staff to managers, the Human Resources Department or the Office of Internal Audit and Investigation, and externally, for anyone working for or with IFRC, to a 24-hour hotline run by Safe Call which is available globally in 40 different languages.
The Office of Internal Audit and Investigation has the independence and power to investigate any complaint and can – and does – engage a range of external experts to help support more complex investigations.
And through both internal and external services we are able to offer a range of psychological and other support to anyone who has suffered any form of workplace harassment.
But we recognise that more needs to be done.
Within IFRC we are working hard to strengthen trust in our systems. Trust that reports will be dealt with confidentially. Trust that there will be a survivor centred approach that treats the complaint with dignity and respect and provides support throughout the process. Trust that lessons will be learnt, systems will be strengthened, and sanctions will be applied.
We have recently worked across the organization to expand knowledge about our policies and systems, to actively listen to staff concerns and suggestions and to support those who have experiences they wish to report and have addressed.
We are also committed to looking back to see if there are any cases that were handled improperly, and to investigate all current complaints. And then to take appropriate actions to address them.
A raft of new actions to further increase awareness about policies and procedures, including improved and expanded training, are under development. As are actions to increase support to survivors and – where legally and ethically possible – to ensure greater transparency on the outcomes of investigations.
Friends, I have talked a lot about workplace harassment – bullying, sexual harassment, unacceptable behaviour between colleagues. But what about our behaviour towards those we are here to serve and support – affected populations and vulnerable people?
IFRC’s Code of Conduct of 2007 explicitly prohibits sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18, and any exchange of money, goods or services for sex.
I repeat: it explicitly prohibits any sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18, and any exchange of money, goods or services for sex.
The Code of Conduct is explicit and has been in place for over a decade. But we still have some way to go.
IFRC has a strong Child Protection Policy and training packages in place but has, to date, lacked a comprehensive policy on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries.
This important policy is in the process of being finalised and it is my, and the SG’s intention, to seek the Governing Board’s strong endorsement of this policy and action plan for strengthening community-based reporting systems in particular, and training in the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. We hope to do this at the next Governing Board meeting in June.
Colleagues, I said at the beginning of this speech that now is the time for each of us to have a hard look inside our own organizations – to be honest and open about the challenges and to stand shoulder to shoulder to address any problems we might find.
Now is the time to take a long hard look behind our emblems, behind our fundamental principles, behind our practices, to our core values. Our values of respect, of dignity and of decency.
Leadership and collective action is critical.
Some of your National Societies do have Codes of Conduct. But a great many do not.
Some of your Codes of Conduct include the prohibition of sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries. But many do not.
It is time to enshrine these values in proper Codes of Conduct supported by comprehensive policies that shout out loud that here – on our watch, in our institutions, in our emergency responses – sexual misconduct, sexual exploitation and abuse, harassment and discrimination must never be tolerated.
The Movement is not immune – and we need to ensure that we address this before the issue “addresses us”.
This is an issue where I- and each and every one of us – have a role to play: as role models, as leaders, and as representatives of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.