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Zero tolerance towards safeguarding breaches

The revelations from Haiti have led to questions being asked about what steps other NGOs are taking to ensure their work is free from exploitation and abuse. 

Trócaire has a zero tolerance approach. We have a robust and detailed series of policies and procedures aimed at ensuring our work is not tarnished by instances of abuse or exploitation. 

The bottom line is that any such instances will not be tolerated. 

We have a range of measures in place, including a code of conduct, a safeguarding policy, a complaints mechanism and regular auditing, training and monitoring. 

All staff sign our safeguarding policy that clearly forbids any form of abuse or exploitation. This includes any sexual activity with children under the age of 18, regardless of the age of consent locally, and any exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex. 

Staff are made aware that there is a zero tolerance approach towards breaches of this policy and are also made aware of their mandatory obligation to report any allegation of breaches.

Safeguarding is also embedded in our HR processes. For example, before hiring members of staff, questions on safeguarding are included in reference checks. We also carry out Garda / police vetting for any role which involves access to children. 

We have had to take action on issues linked to safeguarding on only one occasion. In 2016 a junior member of staff in an ancillary role in one of our overseas offices was accused of sexual exploitation. We held an investigation which found that the individual had breached our code of conduct. He was dismissed immediately. There is a criminal investigation into that incident and Trócaire is assisting the local authorities. This is the only such incident relating to staff members to have been reported to us.

Our team worked quickly, effectively and appropriately to deal with this incident. That is the standard which we expect and demand of ourselves. We cannot and will not tolerate instances of abuse or exploitation.

All organisations which receive Trócaire funding are also required to have a safeguarding policy and to report to us any breaches of that policy. Recently, we were made aware of one such breach among staff of a partner organisation. We assisted the organisation with their investigation and an individual was dismissed.

Humanitarian and development workers are motivated by a desire to help people living in poverty and crisis, often putting themselves at great risk in order to do so. We sincerely hope that public confidence in the overwhelming majority of people who engage in this life-saving work with professionalism and courage is not diminished by the revelations of recent days. 

Éamonn Meehan is the Executive Director of Trócaire. 

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