UK gives multi-million funding to charity facing sexual misconduct probe

LONDON, Jan 15 - Britain's aid ministry has been criticised for awarding a multi-million pound grant to a charity under investigation over alleged sexual misconduct despite a pledge to cut off funding to organisations that fail to tackle the issue.

Campaigners against abuse in aid condemned £132 million ($168 million) in funding for British-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) after it emerged that the watchdog Charity Commission is looking into claims of fraud and sexual harassment within the charity.

It comes following a scandal over sexual harassment and abuse within the international charity sector, with Britain's International Development Committee warning last year that groups were failing to take sufficient action.

"To our anger, this is no surprise to learn," the co-founders of the advocacy group NGO Safe Space, which works against sexual harassment in international aid, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an emailed statement.

"Following shortcuts DFID (the Department for International Development) took at their safeguarding summit, their decision to award public funding to yet another INGO (international non-governmental organisation) with a staff member reported to cause harm to women was inevitable.

"It's simply unacceptable. In 2019, we are absolutely clear this impunity must end."

A spokesman for IPPF said it had been dealing with allegations raised through its internal safeguarding mechanisms and a subsequent investigation and had been in regular contact with donors and the regulator throughout the process.

"IPPF is committed to safeguarding all who come into contact with it, including the people we serve, volunteers, employees, contractors and all workers," said a spokesman.

DFID said it was aware of the Charity Commission investigation.

"DFID has a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption of any kind, and we have been very clear that we will not tolerate practices which do not reach the highest standards," a spokeswoman said.

The aid world has come under intense scrutiny since it was revealed that Oxfam staff used prostitutes in during a relief mission in Haiti, sparking a scandal that revealed wider concerns over sexual harassment and abuse in the charity sector.

Aid minister Penny Mordaunt last year said her department would cut off funding to any charity which failed to take firm steps to clamp down on sexual misconduct by staff.

The Charity Commission said the IPPF had made a number of serious incident reports over "matters of concern ... including concerns about fraud and sexual harassment" in one of IPPF's overseas regional offices.

It opened a regulatory compliance case into the charity last month, which falls short of a formal inquiry.

Staff at DFID were aware of the allegations since August but chose not to cancel the funding in September for sexual healthcare programmes in Africa and East Asia.

IPPF confirmed in a statement it had received "a number of allegations" against a senior manager made by colleagues.

An investigation by lawyers found insufficient grounds to take action on the claims but uncovered information relating to a lack of management controls and oversight of a previous fraud, leading to the decision to end the executive's contract.

He has lodged an appeal, which is ongoing.