Mary Marsh charity ethics review recommends 'presumption of openness'

Charities should be willing to share information about how they work and operate with ‘a presumption of openness and appropriate transparency’, a draft code of ethics for the sector published today recommends.

The code, led by Dame Mary Marsh and published by NCVO, is part of a major programme of work agreed by charities, umbrella bodies, the Charity Commission and the government, following revelations about sexual abuse in international development.

NCVO’s hope is that this code of ethics will provide charities with the sector’s equivalent of the Nolan Principles for public office. Charities will be encouraged to make clear to the public that they are committed to adhering to them.

The proposed principles also call on charities to promote a culture that does not tolerate harmful behaviour, and to put systems in place to ensure decisions are free from conflict of interest. It asks charities to consider their responsibility to the natural environment and the sustainability of their operations.

The code is a set of overarching principles and standards intended to provide guidance regardless of charity’s size, approach or purpose. It is aimed at supporting charities in recognising and dealing with ethical issues and conflicts. The code is divided into four key sections.

  • Putting beneficiaries first
  • Acting with integrity
  • Being open
  • Ensuring the right to be safe

The draft code is now open to a 12-week consultation, with charities and other interested parties encouraged to submit their views.

Dame Mary Marsh, who led on drafting the code of ethics, said:

No one who has read recent revelations about safeguarding and behaviour at work within the charity sector could fail to be shocked. They have prompted a recognition from the sector that more needs to be done.

This code of ethics is not just about safeguarding, its ambition is much bigger. It is designed to encourage charities to reflect on their current policies and practice, to fire further debate on key issues, to show the sectors commitment to ethical principles, and most importantly to help prevent problems ever arising again.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:

I would like to thank Dame Mary Marsh for leading on this important work. Published today, alongside an Acevo report on leading safer cultures, the code of ethics is part of a wider piece of work that shows collaboration and commitment from across the sector to address head-on the issues that have arisen in recent months. I encourage organisations to take this opportunity to respond to the draft code, and be a part of this sector-wide push for safer practices.

Notes

  • After extensive media coverage of safeguarding problems in International Aid organisations, two parallel summits were held by the Department for International Development and by the Charity Commission, with international development and domestic charities respectively. At both summits, a programme of work was agreed by charities, their umbrella bodies, the regulator and government to put in place mechanisms to ensure that safeguarding and workplace practise and culture are strengthened, and future incidents are minimised as much as possible. The code of ethics is part of this work.
  • Dame Mary Marsh is chair of trustees at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and a non-executive director of HSBC bank plc. She is former chief executive of the NSPCC, as well as founder and former chief executive of the Clore Social Leadership Programme.

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