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Understanding External Conduct Standard 4: Protection of vulnerable individuals

Your charity is required to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of vulnerable individuals overseas. Read what this means.
Child with dark hair and pink dress with white spots kissing woman on cheek who is seated on floor wearing yellow sari with flowers and preparing vegetables.
© ACNC

External Conduct Standard 4 requires a charity to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of vulnerable individuals overseas.

It applies where individuals are:

  • Being provided with services or accessing benefits under programs provided by the charity (whether directly or through collaboration with a third party).
  • Engaged by the charity, or a third party in collaboration with the charity, to provide services or benefits on behalf of the charity or third party.

‘Vulnerable individuals’

Vulnerable individuals are people under the age of 18, or those who may be either unable to take care of themselves – due to their age, an illness, trauma, disability, or some other disadvantage – or unable to protect themselves against harm or exploitation.

The vulnerability may be permanent (for example, an aged-related vulnerability) or temporary (for example, a woman forced to move to a shelter due to personal circumstances).

Note: A charity’s own workers and volunteers may be vulnerable, particularly if living and working in remote communities or countries experiencing conflict or disaster.

External Conduct Standard 4 aims to ensure that a charity’s operations outside Australia are undertaken in a way that minimises the risk of harm, exploitation or abuse of a vulnerable person. This is consistent with the community’s expectations of charities.

‘Reasonable steps’

The ACNC does not dictate what a charity must do to meet External Conduct Standard 4. Each charity must decide the appropriate action required based on its own circumstances.

The ACNC expects a charity to have considered the risks to vulnerable people associated with its overseas activities, including those carried out in collaboration with a third party.

The reasonable steps that a charity must take, and the reasonable procedures it must maintain, will depend on its particular circumstances and the associated risks. These considerations will be different for each charity.

To decide what these steps should be, a charity should consider:

  • The nature and degree of the vulnerability of the people it works with.
  • Its size and the number of staff and volunteers it has.
  • Its level of knowledge, and how experienced its people are in working with vulnerable people.
  • The nature, scale, complexity and location of its overseas activities.
  • The effectiveness of the current policies and procedures governing its activities.
  • The working and living conditions of staff and volunteers overseas.
  • How disasters or conflict could affect the vulnerability of people in the area.
  • Cultural issues and local practices.
  • Its work with third parties.

By not taking the appropriate steps to protect vulnerable people, a charity risks:

  • Abuse or harm to vulnerable beneficiaries.
  • Health and safety issues, including injury to beneficiaries, staff and volunteers.
  • Compensation claims and legal action due to stress or harassment.
  • Damage to its reputation as well as the reputation of the wider charity sector.

For charities with more interaction with vulnerable people, there are more risks and a greater need for comprehensive measures. For charities with fewer risks, it may be adequate to implement a limited number of measures.

For example, a charity that provides medical care and residential care services to children in a disadvantaged community overseas will be expected to have stronger controls in place to protect the vulnerable people it helps than a charity that works to save endangered wildlife.

© ACNC
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External Conduct Standards for Charities

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