WFP chief vows to protect sex harassment victims

David Beasley
 ROME — World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley unveiled sweeping changes bolstering the agency’s policy against sexual harassment Wednesday, pledging to protect whistleblowers and victims so that WFP spearheads a “broader workplace culture” of gender equality.
 “It is clear to me that even though the World Food Programme has worked in the last couple of years to combat sexual harassment, sexual abuse and other forms of misconduct, we still have a long way to go,” Mr Beasley said in a letter to staff that was well received by staffers. 
 “Today, I’m letting you know about some changes to our Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Authority that will bolster our zero tolerance stance to better protect victims as well as find and punish those who are guilty of misconduct in this area. Those new changes will include but are not limited to:”
 “An end to the current six-month time limit for reporting violations;
 Allowing the consideration of anonymous complaints and complaints from former employees;
 Investigating abusive conduct even if a specific victim does not come forward;
 Stronger punishment for anyone who retaliates against a victim.”
 “We are going through procedural steps necessary to finalize these changes, and then they will be implemented in the next few weeks. We will let everyone know when that happens.” 
“I want to address one aspect of this issue that bothers me very much. I know that some of our WFP colleagues are afraid to speak up, believing that they cannot even think about filing a complaint about misconduct because their jobs will be threatened or their careers derailed. That kind of atmosphere is unacceptable. We must and will find ways to make sure that people feel confident that they will be protected when they report misconduct.”
“The only people who should be afraid about our policies in this area should be those who commit these acts. WFP has indeed taken serious action against people regarding sexual harassment, including suspending them while the conduct is reviewed, and, where it is established that it happened, firing them. We have and will investigate allegations, and the new policies will help us be even better at rooting out this problem.”
 The WFP chief sent out his letter to staff after the suspension of a senior WFP executive in central Asia, following an external investigation into alleged sexual harassment. It was not immediately clear how many of the changes mooted were originated by WFP and how many were proposals that emerged from the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) on the subject. Ironically the British executive who was suspended last week-end previously served as one of the WFP representatives on the IASC, UN sources said.
 Mr Beasley added: “I want WFP to be a leader on this issue. But I want us to lead not just on the right policies and procedures, but on the broader workplace culture we should have in the 21st Century. I intend to spend time during the coming year talking with and listening to women at all levels of WFP about these issues. I believe we can lead the rest of the U.N., even the rest of the humanitarian world.”
“One way we do that is through recruitment of more women to work at WFP on both the international and national staffs. We will also be doing more to promote women within the organization into leadership positions and to encourage more women to compete for promotions.”
“On my trips to the field, I always ask about gender parity, and I’ve been frequently troubled by how poorly some of our offices are doing. I’ve made it quite clear to leaders that I expect specific plans – with measurable benchmarks – about how they will address gender parity in their offices.”