Dear Mr. Ricketson,
I am writing on behalf of ACFID’s Executive Committee in response to your email of 12 June 2014 and your open letter published on your blog.
I also refer you to previous correspondence from ACFID’s Executive Director, Mr. Marc Purcell (who is authorised to act on behalf of the Executive Committee including myself); specifically correspondence dated 7 March 2014, 8 March 2014, 11 March 2014 and 2 April 2014.
Both the ACFID Executive and the ACFID Code of Conduct Committee (CCC) take the matters that you have raised in your correspondence with ACFID since February this year very seriously.
A key purpose of ACFID is to equip and encourage members to observe the highest ethical standards in all their activities, including strict observance of the ACFID Code of Conduct. The Code itself only applies to signatory organisations. These are the organisations that publicly commit to upholding the principles and obligations outlined in the Code and they can be held accountable to these.
However, many signatory organisations work with and through partners to deliver their program. The ACFID Code requires signatory organisations to use all reasonable efforts to ensure that partners deliver the Code signatory’s program in a manner consistent with the Code of Conduct.
As you are aware, the CCC (the independent body charged with overseeing the Code that is responsible for Code complaints handling) initiated investigations into complaints against two organisations that you lodged with ACFID’s Executive Director on 8 March. The CCC will only consider complaints relating to breaches of the ACFID Code of Conduct by Code signatory organisations and only where the Code Complaints handling process is the most appropriate way to handle the matter (See E.3 ACFID Code of Conduct Complaints Handling, on our website www.acfid.asn.au)
The complaints handling processes are not court processes or a tribunal. The rules of evidence do not apply. However our members take their commitment to the Code seriously and the complaints handling process forms part of the binding obligations of the Code (Section E.3.1). Members are required to comply with requests from the CCC for information within reasonable time limits (Section E.3.1.2) and they have been cooperative in providing detailed information in these particular cases.
The CCC is constituted independently of the ACFID Council and Executive and its investigations and deliberations are conducted separately and confidentially. However, the CCC is permitted under its Terms of Reference and the Code of Conduct Implementation Guidance (Section E.3.1) to provide additional information and involve other levels of governance within ACFID (guided by the Precautionary Principle).
Due to the public manner with which you have conducted your communication regarding these issues, the CCC has advised me of the outcome of the complaint investigations referred to above and the CCC’s own inquiry referred to below.
I understand that you chose not to cooperate with the CCC’s investigation into those complaints and that you were not a party to the CCC’s own inquiry (outlined below). Nevertheless, I am choosing to provide the following information to you in the interests of transparency and accountability and in light of the seriousness with which concerns regarding child protection are dealt with by ACFID.
Please note that both the information in this letter in regard to the investigations of the complaints that you lodged with ACFID and the result of the CCC’s own inquiry, are subject to the confidentiality and privacy provisions of ACFID’s complaints handling process. I ask that you respect these provisions.
The CCC has determined that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with an investigation into one of your complaints and that no breach had occurred in regard to your other complaint. In regard to the latter, the CCC noted that our member organisation dealt with your queries in what it considered to be a thorough, reasonable and timely manner and that no breach had occurred in regard to Code Section D.2.4 Conflict of Interest .
The CCC may initiate inquiries into areas of signatories’ practice which may have an impact on the wider aid and development sector but which does not fall within the scope of the Code of Conduct; and further, they may initiate inquiries into potential breaches of the Code in the absence of a formal complaint.
While ACFID requested you pursue the matter you raised formally through Code of Conduct complaints process, I acknowledge your choice not to. However, due to the serious nature of your concerns, the CCC has conducted an inquiry into matters raised in your correspondence since February.
This inquiry has been completed and the CCC determined that no breach had occurred in relation to the relevant obligations in the ACFID Code of Conduct, including relationships with partners, child protection and the rights of vulnerable and marginalized people.
In making this determination, the Committee noted our member organisation has used all reasonable efforts to determine the legal basis for actions taken by its partner, that these actions were taken with the requisite approval of relevant authorities in Cambodia and that any remaining legal issues could only be resolved through judicial and/or administrative means in Cambodia rather than through an alternative dispute resolution mechanism such as the ACFID Code of Conduct complaints handling process.
Finally, ACFID recognises that there are systemic issues with orphanages in Cambodia and I thank you for bringing these to ACFID’s attention. ACFID is currently examining ways to address these issues in cooperation with relevant agencies in Australia and Cambodia.
As explained in Mr. Purcell’s letter to you of 7 March 2014, ACFID’s primary contribution to improving child protection in developing countries is through setting standards, monitoring compliance with those standards, addressing complaints in relation to compliance with those standards and building the capacity of Code signatory organisations to meet those standards in context specific ways. These child protection standards, which apply to all Code signatory organisations regardless of where they work, are reviewed and where necessary revised on a regular basis; in part informed by issues that emerge through ACFID’s complaints handling process.
ACFID also works with DFAT to improve child protection in the delivery of Australia’s aid program, including through contributing to the development and socialisation of DFAT’s child protection guidelines and facilitating DFAT-led training with our member agencies.
I hope you can see from this information that from the first point in time in February 2014 when you contacted us to raise your concerns ACFID has engaged comprehensively with the serious issues you raise according to our powers. I believe we have made all efforts we can to ascertain the situation and that we have taken the best interests of the children as the paramount consideration. I thank you for bringing this serious matter to our attention.
Sam Mostyn President
7 July 2014