Message from UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore to staff about ending sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment

Dear colleagues, 

The last week has given us an opportunity to have frank discussions about how we live up to UNICEF’s core values like care, respect, equality and trust. These values animate everything our staff members do in communities around the world in support of the world’s children.

To all of you who sent messages and e-mails about your concerns and ideas about harassment in the workplace: thank you. Please know that we have heard your concerns — and we will continue listening as we articulate and put into action our responsibilities in the days and weeks ahead.

We have no tolerance for sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment of any kind — including abuses of power and authority. Anywhere.

There have been failures in our culture and processes. This problem has lingered for too long.

But we are united in our desire to change, and create a culture where harassment is never tolerated. We must never forget that those who suffer harassment and abuse are, often, victimized several times: by those who commit these abuses, and by those who enable them. By those who do not take action…by those who do not offer support…and by those who shun a person who is abused or is a whistleblower. 

This must be a new era for UNICEF. I want every person who works at — and with — this wonderful organization to feel safe entering UNICEF offices, workplaces or project sites, and remember two words: not here.

I also want you to know that, if you see or experience any form of harassment or witness the sexual abuse and exploitation of children or women, you will have the tools and the power to report it, without shame or fear of reprisal. I am committed to creating a culture of trust and safety so that every employee feels able to come forward. 

Finally, I want you to know that all reports will be swiftly addressed. We will keep anyone who comes forward informed, and they will receive protections throughout any investigations. And there will be consequences for those who fail to live up to UNICEF’s values, including dismissal.

Today, I want you to know of a number of initial actions we have put in place to prevent, report and respond to all forms of harassment in the workplace — including abuse of power — and the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and women. Taking decisive action on these two issues goes to the heart of who we are as an organization.

We are improving staff vetting and screening for new hires — including professional, background and criminal-record checks. In addition, a specialized UN reference-check facility is being established, and UNICEF will be part of it.

We are hiring independent advisors to review our practices on both workplace harassment and the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. I will make their findings public. We are also establishing external task forces and internal units to help shape our policies and practices in the weeks and months ahead.

We are launching several measures this week, available to each of you, to report incidents, and obtain ethics, legal and medical support, as well as counselling services. These include a new webpage that will have, for the first time, a button that, with one click, will give you the power to alert managers that a problem exists in a particular office. The existing email to report misconduct — — will be complemented by a new telephone hotline. We will announce the phone number in a few days.  

Our online harassment training is now expanding to include mandatory, in-person training for all staff members.

To ensure that you have an opportunity to voice your opinions, we are launching online tools and open conversations so you can help us shape UNICEF’s harassment policy by year’s end.

And we are reminding all UNICEF staff members that engaging in commercial and other transactional sex or accessing any pornographic material on UNICEF computers or devices is prohibited, and will lead to immediate consequences, which may include dismissal.

Yes, the past is disappointing to us all. But today is our time to shape an open, respectful and inclusive culture — for ourselves, and for future generations of proud UNICEF staff members.

UNICEF is a great place to work. In my short time here, I have seen example after example of the pride that UNICEF’s staff members rightly have in our organization. With your help, and your voice, we will make it even better.

Henrietta H. Fore