The UK’s approach to safeguarding in the humanitarian sector

A review examining the UK’s approach to safeguarding in the humanitarian sector finds the government needs to do more to learn from people affected by humanitarian crises.

Score: Amber/Red
  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 24 February 2022
  3. Type: Full review
  4. Subject: Democracy, governance and human rights, Humanitarian assistance, Peace, security and justice, Women and girls
  5. Assessment: Amber/Red
  6. Location: Bangladesh, Uganda, Yemen
  7. Lead commissioner: Sir Hugh Bayley
  8. SDGs covered:Reduced inequalities, Peace, justice and strong institutions, Gender equality

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We awarded an amber-red score and made five recommendations to government following this review, finding that the government could do more to learn from people affected by humanitarian crises, including victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse, to improve safeguarding in the humanitarian sector.

Though the UK government is strongly committed to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises, its top-down approach means insufficient attention has been given to learning from the recipients of humanitarian aid on how to reduce the risks they face.


  • The UK government has increased international attention to protection from sexual exploitation and abuse in the humanitarian sector, but should reinforce systems for consultation with affected people, especially victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse, so their views are consistently used to learn ‘what works’ and inform prevention of and response to SEA.
  • The UK has used its resources, influence and convening power to galvanise action in this area, acting as an important catalyst for change and complementing other initiatives at both international and local levels.
  • The UK has developed a wide-ranging strategy comprising four ‘strategic shifts’ that reflect a broad consensus on priority actions and interventions.
  • The UK safeguarding strategy, despite being developed based on wide consultations, lacks systematic ongoing engagement with crisis-affected people, especially victims and survivors of SEA.
  • The UK has invested in a wide range of appropriate measures to develop the capacity and capability, and to build the evidence base, but that this work requires a more strategic approach.
  • The UK has adopted a wide-ranging strategy of seeking change both at the international and delivery level, but a disproportionate emphasis on systems may be resulting in slower change for affected people.
  • Coherence with the wider humanitarian sector, though initially weak, has consistently improved and that FCDO investments have been instrumental in strengthening coordination.
  • Though the UK has created an effective network, it lacks sufficient representation from victims and survivors.
  • Reinforcement of minimum standards has improved consistency and delivery in prevention and response, but a lack of funding undermines effectiveness, particularly for smaller organisations.
  • Weak systems for global and operational data sharing undermine transparency and accountability.
  • Initiatives to prevent perpetrators from reoffending have inherent limitations and are not yet showing substantial impact.
  • Though there is some evidence to suggest that the culture of the humanitarian sector is starting to shift in relation to SEA, there is currently no system in place for measuring this change.


  1. FCDO should focus greater attention on humanitarian responses in country, supporting partners in implementing approaches to protection from sexual exploitation and abuse that are tailored to each context.
  2. FCDO should ensure that trusted mechanisms systematically capture the voices of affected populations, victims and survivors to inform policy and improve operations on sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian settings.
  3. FCDO should develop and implement a research agenda on protection against sexual exploitation and abuse that identifies and prioritises key evidence gaps, in particular on what is happening on the ground.
  4. FCDO should ensure that its support of efforts to prevent the re-hiring of perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse includes staff recruited in countries of humanitarian response, who make up the majority of humanitarian aid workers.
  5. FCDO should conduct a review of its approach to investigating allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers in order to address the points identified by this review.


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Published 2 July 2021

Evidence gathering


Review publication

Published 24 February 2022

Government response

Published 7 April 2022

Parliamentary scrutiny

IDC hearing 28 June 2022

Further scrutiny

Published 18 July 2023