Donor countries set international standard for preventing sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in development sector

development sector

(Avel Chuklanov, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.


Members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – 29 donor countries and the EU – agreed on a comprehensive set of recommendations aimed at preventing sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the aid sector.

The DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance: Key Pillars of Prevention and Response sets out a first international standard in this area for governments to apply to national aid agencies when working with civil society, charities, and other bodies running development programs or delivering humanitarian aid. It should help countries become better equipped to improve systems to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct in the development sector, with a clear framework that puts survivors and victims first.

“Today is momentous for the DAC and for the entire development community. The DAC is the first multilateral body to agree to hold ourselves to account in the battle to eradicate sexual exploitation and abuse,” said DAC Chair Susanna Moorehead, after the 30 DAC members adopted the text on 12 July 2019. “But success depends on DAC members actually implementing this Recommendation, as well as a cultural shift in organisations and a permanent behavioural change by perpetrators.”

“This is a clear acknowledgement that the entire development co-operation community is accountable for the deplorable abuses by some aid workers against people in the most vulnerable contexts,” said Jorge Moreira da Silva, OECD Director of Development Co-operation. “Long-overdue fixes need to be made at every point of the responsibility chain – in aid policies, aid delivery, and support for victims and survivors.”

The DAC Recommendation, which non-DAC donor countries can also adhere to, states that countries should:

  • Develop policies, strategies and work plans to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, designed to meet set goals and standards. It should be made clear that failure to respond appropriately to incidents of abuse will not be tolerated.
  • Develop Codes of Conduct or Ethical Standards that provide explicit standards and regulations to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment and ensure they are communicated to staff and senior management in developing agencies, as well as to developing country partners.
  • Develop reporting and response protocols with clear guidelines for staff on when and to whom to report, and how senior management can respond in a confidential and sensitive manner that puts victims and survivors first.
  • Provide integrated and safe response and protection for those who report sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, and develop guidance and minimum standards for assisting victims and survivors, including with financing support.
  • Establish reporting and response systems and procedures for the prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. These should include internal complaint and investigation procedures, anonymous reporting mechanisms, protection from retaliation for whistleblowers and those affected by abuse, and human resources practices that prevent the hiring of perpetrators, for example through enhanced background screening.

While not legally binding, DAC Recommendations – such as the DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus – represent a strong political commitment to the principles and policy recommendations they contain on behalf of DAC members. In addition, the DAC Recommendation instructs the OECD’s Network on Gender Equality to monitor its implementation and report thereon to the DAC no later than five years following its adoption and at least every ten years thereafter.

The full text of the DAC Recommendation, together with relevant background information, is available on the OECD Compendium of Legal Instruments: DAC Recommendation on Ending Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance.

The OECD’s DAC is a forum for donor countries to agree on international principles, rules and other standards for international development. The DAC also publishes data and analysis on official aid flows, carries out Peer Reviews of DAC members’ performance in delivering development assistance and prepares policy guidance through its networks and partnerships.

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