Charities have ‘no appetite’ to protect volunteers, MPs told

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Credit: UK Parliamant/Mark Duffy

A promise made earlier in the decade to improve protection for volunteers has not been implemented, and the sector has “no appetite” to do so, a committee of MPs has been told.

Caroline Aldiss, a former Oxfam volunteer, submitted written evidence submitted to an inquiry into sexual exploitation in the aid sector, conducted by the international development committee.

She said that she had heard of "dreadful abuse and neglect of volunteers" working overseas, and had also encountered mistreatment in Oxfam shops, although the charity denies this.

She said her experiences led her to take part in the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, which was led by Volunteering England in 2010 and 2011. Volunteering England – then the umbrella body for volunteering and volunteer managers – has since merged into NCVO.

The inquiry developed a new 3R promise, which charities were asked to sign up to, and which to protect volunteers. The three commitments are to get it right from the beginning, offer reconciliation if things go wrong, and accept responsibility if things went wrong.

She said that over the course of the inquiry she heard volunteers complain of serious breaches of trust.

"During this process I was surprised to hear the serious concerns from some of those at the top of the sector too," she said, "especially that if these sector-wide complaints were to surface more broadly that there could be a serious public response.  

"I was also surprised to see little involvement from the Charity Commission with regards to this inquiry process.  

"Generally, we campaigners were told there was no appetite to address these complaints provision concerns within the charity and volunteering sectors."

She said that since the development of the 3R promise it had faded out of view in the sector.

"Unfortunately, nothing seems to have become of the 3R Promise since its launch," she said. "It does not seem to have been actively managed or promoted in the last few years and the web link is frequently missing from NCVO's website."

NCVO disagrees

NCVO disputes Aldiss' claims.

Shaun Delaney, volunteering development manager at NCVO, said: "Over the last ten years I've seen a huge improvement in how volunteers are supported to raise concerns. Much of this has been down to the attention focused on the issue following the inquiry and the launch of the 3R promise.

"We give advice to organisations and volunteers on a daily basis to help them manage and resolve conflicts and concerns. We incorporate the 3R principles into all our training, and they are central to Investing in Volunteers, the quality standard that has been achieved by over 800 organisations."

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