‘We do not tolerate any form of sexual harassment’
GIZ takes a tough stance against sexual assault and operates a comprehensive, anonymous whistleblowing system to protect victims and complainants, and to follow up all reports rigorously.
Recent cases of sexual harassment and exploitation within international development organisations have prompted the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to review and further improve its own comprehensive whistleblowing system. There have, however, been no specific cases of people who need our help being harassed.
‘Values are central to GIZ’s work. We strongly advocate respect for human rights, equal opportunities and integrity. We do not tolerate any form of sexual harassment, exploitation or discrimination in the company,’ says Director of Human Resources Lutz Zimmermann. ‘It is our duty to create an environment in which our employees feel comfortable and safe, and know that they can report suspicions at any time. The various units and bodies to whom complaints can be made guarantee strict confidentiality, and in consultation with complainants, we follow up all cases rigorously. Protecting and supporting those affected is our priority, and we always take sanctions against perpetrators.’
For many years, a professional system has been in place at GIZ for investigating cases both within the company and in its professional environment, and for supporting victims. Anyone with concerns can contact the GIZ integrity advisors, an independent ombudsman, local representative bodies, staff councils, the German mission abroad or the Human Resources Department confidentially at any time. Business and project partners, clients and the general public can also get in touch if they suspect our rules have been violated or to report cases – and can do so anonymously if they wish.
The GIZ Code of Conduct outlines a set of rules which all staff agree to abide by when they sign their contracts. These rules include the prohibition of sexual harassment. All 18,000 employees must comply with the Code of Conduct, which also requires them to report any breaches of the Code. The integrity advisors and the external ombudsman are available to receive complaints.
The policy prohibiting sexual harassment at the workplace was adopted in 2013 and is one of the topics covered during the mandatory preparation period for all staff, both in Germany and abroad. Our country offices abroad often supplement the policy with further measures, such as surveys, seminars or events, to raise awareness of this issue.
Between 2012 and 2017, 16 complaints relating to sexual harassment were substantiated. Every single case is one too many. 15 of the cases concerned sexual harassment at the workplace, while the remaining case concerned harassment of female staff of another international relief organisation. There were no cases involving harassment of people who were in need of our help. Cases included verbal and physical harassment, but none involved rape or similarly severe incidents. GIZ systematically recorded, investigated and sanctioned each case. Depending on the severity of the misconduct, clear sanctions were applied, including six written warnings, two dismissals and one termination of contract.
The recent media reports have prompted GIZ to review and further improve its own comprehensive system. Complaints can already be made anonymously by telephone or email, but a new website is being set up this year to enable whistleblowers to report cases securely and anonymously online. A high-security server guarantees anonymity, and complaints submitted this way will be checked for plausibility and then followed up.