Growth in reputational risks hit NGOs says Hiscox’s Lottie Catto

by Lottie Catto, Hiscox Special Risks

The NGO community has faced some uncomfortable media coverage in recent months with painful truths uncovered regarding cultures of bullying, harassment and racism in some organisations. The reputational damage that this has caused the industry has been severe, highlighting the growing duty of care obligation that senior management now has towards its employees across a broader remit beyond conventional security threats like terrorism or kidnap. This is a development that is not restricted to the NGO community. Increasingly, companies are being forced to prove their commitment to protecting employees against emerging threats like stalking, assault or workplace violence that can occur in perceived low-risk environments, not just when travelling or working overseas.

The security threat to NGOs
The 2017 Aid Worker Security Report emphasises the unacceptably high level of violence still affecting aid workers every year. In 2016, 158 major attacks against aid operations occurred in which 101 aid workers were killed, 98 wounded and 89 kidnapped. In 2018 we have already seen some shocking attacks on NGOs operating to help vulnerable people in dangerous and difficult locations. Save the Children’s Jalalabad office in Afghanistan was targeted by gunmen claiming to be from Islamic State in February, resulting in the deaths of three members of staff and three further civilians. Six aid workers, including one UNICEF employee, were killed in an attack in the Central African Republic the same month. Clearly it is right that a major focus for security managers is the protection of staff working in these high-risk environments. However, the consideration of staff safety through a broader lens than kidnap or terrorism is growing in importance.

Growth in stalking and assaults
A recent humanitarian conference in London included a speaker from Report the Abuse, a now discontinued NGO which raised awareness of sexual violence in the aid worker community. The statistics are frightening, detailing hundreds of incidents of stalking and assaults against aid workers both from within the community and from outside. Compounded by the recent news reports of investigations into harassment and assault at major NGOs including Save the Children and Oxfam, this is clearly an issue that needs to be taken seriously by management and boards, or they risk damaging reputation and integrity.

It’s a development that is mirrored across many different industries: since the start of 2017, there have been a number of lawsuits against companies which have allegedly failed to protect their employees from incidents of stalking or threats. With rates of reported stalking cases increasing by 36% in the UK year-on-year, according to the Office for National Statistics, and the prevalence of social media making stalking easier to commit, this is clearly an issue which is going to be more on the radar for companies as time goes on. While many security teams are, quite rightly, focused on business travellers and employees in high-risk areas, the risks at home should not be underestimated.

Helping organisations manage the risk
Hiscox and Control Risks have developed the Security Incident Response (SIR) policy to specifically cover incidents like stalking, threats and assault, as well as the more extreme incidents of kidnap, extortion and workplace violence. We recognise the growing need for NGOs and other organisations to cover all bases from both a security perspective and duty of care viewpoint. Our SIR policy is designed to be a valuable tool for security teams, boards and general counsels both at domestic and international level, providing easily accessible crisis management, strategic advice and recovery support to resolve the rapidly-changing range of risks facing organisations.