Britain’s international development ministry was plunged into the sexual harassment scandal rocking the aid industry today after a minister admitted up to four of its staff were reported for alleged misconduct last year.
The revelation switched the spotlight over the sexual harassment claims against aid professionals from charities to the Government’s own Department for International Development.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has ordered a review to identify the full scale of “locally reported allegations of sexual misconduct” against DFID staff and its partners delivering aid to some of the world’s poorest countries.
However, overseas aid minister Harriett Baldwin gave an indication of the expected findings when she admitted in a parliamentary answer that “under five” staff were formally reported for sexual harassment last year.
The department declined to give a more precise figure as the review seeks within weeks to establish the full facts and number of cases, which could rise, and whether staff facing allegations are based overseas or in Whitehall.
Some of the claims are believed to be against staff when working abroad.
Ms Baldwin stressed that the department had a range of procedures already in place to stop sexual harassment.
Her admission will inevitably raise questions whether DFID’s own measures to tackle misconduct are adequate, especially as it has threatened to stop working with charities caught in the storm following the Oxfam Haiti prostitution revelations and allegations against other charities.
She said: “DFID’s standards of conduct set out the ethical behaviours and controls required in our day to day work to incorporate the key principles based on the UN’s code on sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises.”
There is a confidential email address for staff to use, she added, with “under five” cases of staff formally reported for sexual harassment last year.
A Labour spokesman said: “In light of the sexual harassment scandal in aid agencies, it’s important we also have transparency in relation to these cases of sexual harassment inside a key government department.”