During emergencies, many people depend on humanitarian aid to help them meet basic needs. This dependence, together with damaged protection systems (such as family networks), contributes to a power imbalance between those delivering services and those receiving them.
There is therefore a serious potential for abuse or exploitation of the affected population, while detection and reporting of abuse become more difficult. Every humanitarian organisation needs to recognize the potential for its staff to cause harm through abuse -- or even unintentionally. To reduce harm, all humanitarian workers must adhere to international humanitarian principles and standards of conduct. The Codes of Conduct on “performance” and on “sexual exploitation” govern all work performed by anyone working for a member of the ACT Alliance – whether national or international staff, interns, volunteers or consultants.
Codes of Conduct apply to all aspects of our work. They are the nuts and bolts of our humanitarian, organisational and individual values. It is crucial that all of our work comply with these rules. Adherence to the Codes of Conduct builds trust and confidence among those we help in emergency situations. The Codes are therefore essential to effective relief efforts.
The Codes incorporate not only international humanitarian values but also legal rules that govern international humanitarian work. ACT Alliance members must respect these codes regardless of prevailing local traditions and culture. These rules are not negotiable, and should not be adjusted based on claims about local customs. If challenged, refer to the country’s own constitution – which will almost always support the Codes of conduct. Of course, the existence of rules on paper does not by itself prevent abuse or exploitation. All humanitarian staff must therefore be educated about the standards – and the importance of complying with them.
For further information please see:
IASC MHPSS Guidelines, Action sheet: 4.2 ‘Enforce staff codes of conduct and ethical guidelines’, pp76-80
International Council of Voluntary Agencies, Building Safer Organisations, Geneva, ICVA (2008)
IFRC, Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGO's in Disaster Relief