An article published in The Times today (19 January 2021), accuses Tearfund of ignoring a sexual assault and using a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) inappropriately.
We strongly dispute the allegations and implications in the article.
These allegations were made by a former employee whose contract was terminated when they no longer had the legal right to work in the country where they were based.
The article alleges that Tearfund ‘ignored sexual assault claims’. This is not correct. Sadly, we confirm that a few years ago a sexual assault did take place. It was reported to the relevant authorities and the Charity Commission. We were deeply saddened and appalled that it took place. We provided support and care to the survivor. The police investigated the incident and the perpetrator, who was an employee of a Tearfund partner organisation, was convicted.
Following the incident and the completion of an internal learning review, our Board commissioned an independent review that identified learning points and made recommendations to improve our approach including in how we support survivors in such cases. We made mistakes in this support, which we deeply regret, and we have addressed these recommendations as part of our ongoing commitment to strengthening our safeguarding processes and practices.
The former employee alleges that the Board buried an investigation into the sexual assault. This is absolutely not the case. The Board commissioned the independent review and its recommendations, asked management for a detailed action plan against those recommendations, and every three months the Board Safeguarding Committee reviews action against the plan, reporting back to the full Board.
It is generally accepted that there is occasionally a place for the use of settlement agreements to allow parties to resolve disagreements and move on after a relationship has irretrievably broken down. It is a legally binding contract that settles claims an employee may have against an employer. On the very rare occasions that we use them, a confidentiality clause (often referred to as an NDA) is added for the benefit of both parties.
The settlement agreed with the individual making the claims enabled Tearfund to pay compensation for the termination of their employment and acknowledged the breakdown in relationships.
Tearfund’s Board, through the Chair, reviews annually any new settlement agreements signed. We are confident that Tearfund’s use of settlement agreements – including confidentiality clauses and the handling of proprietary information and documents on leaving the organisation – has been well considered, is appropriate and aligned with the updated guidance of the Law Society as well as ACAS and CHS Alliance (Core Humanitarian Standard) guidelines.
Agreeing to a settlement isn’t something we do often or without very careful consideration. Our settlement agreements make clear that they do not in any way prevent the individual from raising any concerns with the relevant regulatory bodies.
Indeed, the individual has made a number of complaints to external bodies including the CHS Alliance and the Charity Commission over the last two years. These complaints have been appropriately investigated and have not been upheld. The Charity Commission stated:
‘We have investigated concerns raised about the use of settlement agreements by Tearfund. After carefully considering the concerns and scrutinising the information provided by the charity, we are satisfied that the charity has appropriate measures in place for their use. Should further concerns come to light we will assess them.’
Tearfund is committed to ensuring that Tearfund staff, volunteers and beneficiaries are able to report wrongdoing and misconduct, and we take all allegations made extremely seriously. We have robust policies in place to deal with any instances where a concern is raised, so that we can maintain a healthy working environment for all.