At PAX we are very concerned about and troubled by the reports of sexual intimidation and abuse by aid agency employees. Unequal power relations involve certain risks and require an extra strong sense of responsibility. It is shocking that such abuses have taken place. This has led us to take a critical look at ourselves and our own policies. We realise that improper conduct can happen anywhere at any time, but the risk increases when unequal power relationships are involved. And norms governing proper conduct erode even more quickly during humanitarian crises or violent conflicts.
All of us at PAX are responsible for respecting our values and for observing a high standard of integrity, wherever we work. We at PAX also all share the responsibility for a safe work environment for employees and safe cooperation with our partner organisations. We, the management, have an extra responsibility in this respect. We must do all we can to prevent improper conduct and learn from mistakes.
Protection of victims
Our current integrity policy focuses on preventing improper conduct and doing justice towards victims of such behaviour. In the event that improper conduct does occur, our emphasis is on protecting victims and their privacy above protecting the reputation of the organisation. Clearly, an appropriate punishment or sanction should be applied with regard to offenders, with due observance of the labour law and other legislative frameworks. Organisations must account for their performance. The confidence of financiers must be restored. However, the most important task is to protect victims and restore their integrity and confidence.
Safety and prevention
PAX has an integrity policy, a code of conduct which has to be signed by all involved, a confidential advisor and whistleblowers’ regulations with accompanying protocols. This policy aims to prevent incidents in the first place, and to allow such incidents when they occur to be reported as easily and safely as possible. We will always thoroughly investigate reports, communicate them in a transparent way and punish those involved.
In the last few years, PAX has not received any complaints about improper sexual conduct by employees. This, however, does not mean that we can definitely conclude that it did not take place. Organisations always run the risk that such incidents are underreported. Therefore, the threshold for reporting improper conduct must be as low as possible.
In a letter, acting Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag asked all organisations who work with the Foreign Affairs ministry to confirm that they have a safe work environment, a culture in which protection of victims comes first, an adequate integrity policy and also provide clarity about investigations and reports on incidents. We will show the Minister that PAX upholds these standards. By doing this, we can contribute to preventive measures within the sector and reduce the threshold for reporting misconduct in regions where aid workers and other organisations are active.