External Conduct Standard 4 requires a charity to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of vulnerable individuals overseas. It applies where individuals are:

  • being provided with services or accessing benefits under programs provided by the charity (whether directly or through collaboration with a third party)
  • engaged by the charity, or a third party in collaboration with the charity, to provide services or benefits on behalf of the charity or third party.

‘Vulnerable individuals’ are defined as people under the age of 18, or those who may be either unable to take care of themselves – due to their age, an illness, trauma, disability, or some other disadvantage – or unable to protect themselves against harm or exploitation.

The vulnerability may be permanent (for example, an aged related vulnerability) or temporary (for example, a woman forced to move to a shelter due to personal circumstances).

Purpose of the Standard

The purpose of the Standard is to ensure that a charity’s operations outside Australia are undertaken in a way that minimises the risk of harm, exploitation or abuse of a vulnerable person.

This is consistent with the community’s expectations of charities.

Reasonable steps

The ACNC does not prescribe what a charity must do to meet the Standard. Based on its own circumstances, each charity must decide the appropriate action required.

The ACNC expects a charity to have considered the risks to vulnerable people associated with its overseas activities, including those carried out in collaboration with a third party.

The reasonable steps that a charity must take, and the reasonable procedures it must maintain, will depend on its particular circumstances and the associated risks. These considerations will be different for each charity.

To decide what these steps should be, a charity should consider:

  • the nature and degree of the vulnerability of the people it works with
  • its size and the number of staff and volunteers it has
  • its level of knowledge, and how experienced its people are in working with vulnerable people
  • the nature, scale, complexity and location of its overseas activities
  • the effectiveness of the current policies and procedures governing its activities
  • the working and living conditions of staff and volunteers overseas
  • how disasters or conflict could affect the vulnerability of people in the area
  • cultural issues and local practices
  • its work with third parties.

By not taking the appropriate steps to protect vulnerable people, a charity risks:

  • abuse or harm to vulnerable beneficiaries
  • health and safety issues, including injury to beneficiaries, staff and volunteers
  • compensation claims and legal action due to stress or harassment
  • damage to its reputation as well as the reputation of the wider charity sector.

Ways to meet the Standard

The actions a charity takes to meet External Conduct Standard 4 will depend on its individual circumstances.

As a first step, a charity should identify and assess the risks to vulnerable people associated with its activities overseas. It should pay special attention to high-risk activities linked to children and vulnerable people, such as overseas volunteering and child sponsorship.

Read our case studies of governance for charities that work supporting vulnerable children overseas.

From there, a charity should develop a plan to manage those risks. Some things that a charity can do to manage risks include:

  • Develop a policy that commits the charity's staff, volunteers, third parties and visitors to protecting vulnerable individuals. Make the safety of vulnerable people an important criterion when selecting third parties.
  • Develop a code of conduct outlining appropriate behaviour when working with vulnerable people.
  • Ensure staff, volunteers and visitors are aware they must report suspected abuse within the charity.
  • Ensure the privacy of vulnerable people is always protected.
  • Establish thorough staff and volunteer recruitment processes, including adequate background checks.
  • Ensure staff and volunteers are suitably qualified in safeguarding vulnerable people and properly supervised when working with them.
  • Have a procedure for confidential complaints that is accessible for all vulnerable persons, staff, volunteers and third parties. Deal with complaints appropriately, sensitively and promptly.
  • Ensure staff and volunteers working overseas have access to suitable housing, food, insurance, medical services and communications. Establish an emergency exit plan for staff and volunteers working in conflict zones or other dangerous locations.
  • Thoroughly check the legal status, reputation and procedures of third parties. Ensure they have the appropriate registrations and licenses to conduct activities with vulnerable people, and that they meet required standards. Have written agreements that clearly set out roles and responsibilities of third parties, and monitor third parties’ activities through regular reporting and checks.

A charity must meet safeguarding requirements, or relevant minimum standards, as set out in both Australian law and the laws of the host country.

Most of these actions are simple and, where appropriate, most charities will be able to do them. But if you think your charity doesn’t have anyone available with enough knowledge and experience, it is a good idea to seek expert help or advice.

If things go wrong...

While good planning and the presence of good policies and procedures will reduce the chances of something going wrong, they will not entirely eliminate the risk.

A charity might have a plan to help manage the consequences of something going wrong. But if not, it should act to:

  • prevent or minimise any further loss or damage
  • report the incident to the responsible authority (for example, the police) if required
  • plan any statements to the media, the public or its own staff and volunteers
  • update its risk management plan and take reasonable steps to prevent the incident from re-occurring.