Guidelines for dealing with reports of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment involving grant recipients in the Foreign Service

These guidelines describe the responsibilities, authority and procedures of the Foreign Service Control Unit (FSCU) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for dealing with reports of suspected sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH) involving grant recipients.

In 2020, the Ministry established an internal working group to consider the practical implementation of the principle of zero tolerance of financial irregularities in connection with grant management in the Foreign Service. The working group also considered SEAH issues and suggested that all the agreement templates should be revised to give greater weight to efforts to combat SEAH.

In summer 2022, a provision explicitly setting out the Ministry’s zero tolerance for inaction against SEAH was added to several of the grant agreement templates,[1] see the new Article 16 in Part II General Conditions. Failure to take action as required by Article 16 has been included as an example of material breach of grant agreements, see Article 18.3 e).

These guidelines are to be followed whenever a grant recipient has entered into an agreement containing the new provisions. In the case of agreements that do not explicitly refer to SEAH, reported cases of SEAH should be dealt with in accordance with the obligations set out in the specific agreement.[2] This is briefly discussed below.

Definitions and responsibilities

Article 16.2 a)–c) provides the following definitions of SEAH:

Sexual exploitation: Any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the sexual exploitation of another (Article 16.2 a).[3]

Sexual abuse: The actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions (Article 16.2 b).

Sexual harassment: Any form of unwanted sexual attention that has the purpose or effect of being offensive, frightening, hostile, degrading, humiliating or troublesome (Article 16.2 c).

Grant recipients must deal with sexual harassment by or towards their own employees in their role as employers and in line with their own guidelines. However, the FSCU must be kept informed about such cases, as required by Article 16.4 (this provision is further discussed below).

If the Ministry’s own employees are suspected of SEAH, this is dealt with by the Ministry as employer, in line with the Guidelines for dealing with conflicts, harassment or other improper conduct. SEAH cases in multilateral organisations should be followed up by the organisations themselves. Grant managers in the Ministry/Foreign Service should follow such processes as closely as possible and keep the FSCU informed. 

Grant agreement obligations relating to SEAH under Article 16

Article 16 on SEAH contains a number of obligations for grant recipients. Article 16.1 states that ‘The Grant Recipient shall have a victim/survivor-centred approach to SEAH issues, and do its utmost to prevent, detect and respond to SEAH within and related to the Project. This obligation applies to all staff members, consultants and other non-staff personnel, cooperating partners, and any third parties involved in activities funded by the Grant.’

Thus, grant recipients have a clear obligation to do everything they can to prevent, detect and respond to SEAH within the framework of projects funded by the Ministry, and to do so throughout the project management system. Article 16.1 describes the general obligation for grant recipients, while Article 16.3 further specifies certain aspects of this obligation.

Article 16.3 states that the grant recipient shall: a) adhere to international standards[4] in this area; b) have ethical guidelines that include policies on prevention and response to SEAH; c) organise its operations and internal control systems in a way that SEAH is prevented, detected and responded to; and d) take swift action on suspicions or complaints of SEAH.

The Ministry will produce a guide on drawing up ethical guidelines. To meet the requirements for internal control systems and swift action, grant recipients must ensure that they have good routines in place and follow them when they receive reports of SEAH.

A grant recipient’s internal control systems can be organised in various ways. The list below is not exhaustive, but includes points that grant recipients may use for guidance:

  • Internal control systems must cover the entire life cycle of possible cases, from prevention and detection through to responses and corrective measures.
  • Systems for prevention, detection and response must take into account the situation in the relevant country.
  • Grant recipients should consider whether a separate SEAH risk assessment is needed for specific projects. Various risk factors may be relevant here, such as experience from previous projects, local circumstances and social conditions.
  • The need for checks during a project should be assessed in advance.
  • A focus on SEAH prevention during recruitment and internal training is vital.
  • It is important to ensure that partners of the grant recipient have the same obligations as the grant recipient itself, see Article 11.
  • To facilitate the detection of SEAH, both a grant recipient’s own employees and the target group/local community must be able to report SEAH incidents connected to the project. This can be done through meetings, focus groups or easily accessible reporting channels. It is important to provide information about how to report cases, the possibility of reporting anonymously, systems to protect whistleblowers and the protection of possible victims.
  • The primary consideration is to protect possible victims, see Article 16.1, and SEAH cases should be treated confidentially by grant recipients.

Article 16.4 requires grant recipients to inform the Ministry immediately of ‘any indications of SEAH credible enough to warrant an investigation…’ Grant recipients must assess themselves whether this threshold is met. Any report that is investigated by a grant recipient must be reported to the FSCU. The FSCU needs to receive timely, correct information about possible SEAH cases linked to activities receiving Norwegian aid funding. The FSCU must also be informed about SEAH cases in a grant recipient’s own organisation (even if not linked to projects with Norwegian funding) if they are of such a nature that they could have a significant impact on cooperation with the Ministry. Examples include cases where the organisational culture of a grant recipient is found to be conducive to SEAH, or where SEAH cases are very serious or widespread.

Article 16.5 sets out requirements for the contents of grant recipients’ reports to the Ministry (FSCU) on SEAH cases. The Ministry must be informed about how cases have been investigated, whether action has been taken, how possible victims have been followed up, etc. Personal data that could identify those involved should not generally be shared with the Ministry unless this is considered necessary in a specific case. All information relevant to a case should be made available to the Ministry on request, see Article 16.6.

It should be noted that in addition to the new Article 16, the basis for following up SEAH cases under earlier versions of the agreement template has been retained. This means that SEAH may constitute a material breach of the grant agreement in a situation where there has been ‘grave professional misconduct’ or ‘illegal activity’ that has ‘taken place within the grant recipient or its cooperating partners,’ see Article 18.3 f).[5]

How the FSCU follows up reports of SEAH

Responsibilities and procedures        

In the Ministry, the FSCU[6] is responsible for following up all reports of SEAH in the grant management system. This is done in line with relevant legislation, including personal data legislation and the provisions of the Public Administration Act on the duty of secrecy.

When it receives a report of suspected SEAH, the FSCU normally registers this as a new case. The grant manager in the Ministry/Foreign Service must be kept informed and consulted as required. The FSCU should consider whether to flag the organisation using a warning triangle in PTA,[7] with a note to contact the FSCU before entering into any new agreements with the organisation.

The FSCU is responsible for investigating the facts of the case and determining whether the obligations set out in the agreement have been fulfilled. In the first instance, this involves assessing the case against the obligations under Article 16 (see above). In addition, the FSCU may assess whether a case involves ‘… grave professional misconduct, or ‘illegal activity’, as set out in Article 18.3 f).[8] The FSCU will also consider whether there may have been breaches of other provisions of the agreement, such as the obligation to inform the Ministry immediately or other partnership obligations.

If the FSCU finds that obligations in a grant agreement have not been fulfilled, it will also assess whether the breach should be considered as a material breach, see Article 18.3 e) and f). This will have a bearing on the possible response, see below.

According to Article 18.3:

“Material breach of the agreement shall include, without limitation, the following situations:

e) the Grant Recipient has failed to take preventive measures against sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment, to detect or respond to indications thereof, or to take corrective action when sexual exploitation, sexual abuse or sexual harassment has occurred, in accordance with article 16 of the General Conditions,

f) […] grave professional misconduct or illegal activity of any form have taken place within the Grant Recipient or its cooperating partners.”

Thus, there are two ways in which SEAH cases may constitute a material breach of a grant agreement: the obligations set out in Article 16 may have been breached, or individual incidents may involve grave professional misconduct or illegal activity. The FSCU therefore assesses each case specifically to determine whether a breach of the obligations to prevent, detect and respond to SEAH under Article 16 constitutes a material breach of the grant agreement. Further, the FSCU assesses whether specific SEAH incidents should be considered to constitute ‘grave professional misconduct’ or ‘illegal activity’ and thus a material breach of the agreement.

Responses to breaches of the grant agreement

If there has been a breach of agreement, the FSCU is responsible for determining any response under the terms of the agreement and what it should be. Each case is determined on a discretionary basis, see Article 18.1 and 18.2, which specify that the Ministry ‘may’ impose sanctions. The FSCU bases[9] its decision in each case on an overall assessment of the grant recipient’s systems and particularly the way it has dealt with the individual case.

In line with Article 18[10], the FSCU may decide to impose the following sanctions (temporary and/or permanent):

  • The suspension of disbursements of all or part of a grant. This may be subject to specific conditions, for example that it applies until the case has been satisfactorily dealt with.
  • A claim for repayment of all or parts of the grant.
  • Termination of the agreement with immediate effect.

The last two require there to have been a material breach of the grant agreement, see Article 18.2 and the discussion of ‘material breach’ above.

If a grant recipient is considered to have dealt with a case satisfactorily, there will be no basis for sanctions under the agreement. However, the FSCU will expect grant recipients to follow up any breaches of discipline within their organisation and to respond to any unacceptable behaviour in accordance with their own guidelines and may remind them of these obligations. In addition, grant recipients should consider whether criminal prosecution in the country concerned is appropriate. Suspects’ legal protection should also be taken into consideration. 

Closing a case

Once the way a grant recipient has dealt with a case has been assessed, any response considered necessary has been imposed and the FSCU has no further questions, the grant recipient is informed and the case is closed in the FSCU’s system. When a case is closed, it is mandatory to assess whether any warning flag registered in PTA should be removed.

After the FSCU closes a case, it is up to the grant manager in the Ministry/Foreign Service to determine how to proceed with the agreement.


[1] Unless otherwise specified, references in these guidelines are to articles in Part II General Conditions, which is to be used in agreements with NGOs under grant management regimes I and II. A corresponding provision has been added to Norad’s agreement templates. There is a separate template for agreements with multilateral organisations.

[2] The former Article 17.3 e) (i.e. current Article 18.3 f)), is particularly relevant.

[3] Taken from the United Nations Glossary on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.

[4] The IASC-Minimum Operating Standards on ‘Protection from sexual exploitation and abuse by own personnel’ (MOS-PSEA) and/or the SEA Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability.

[5] Previously Article 17.3 e). This will provide the basis for any SEAH-related sanctions under older grant agreements.

[6] See the memorandum dated 11 February 2022, approved by the Secretary General on 14 February. Cases reported to multilateral organisations are dealt with through other channels (see p. 2).

[7] PTA is the grant management system used by the Ministry and Norad.

[8] Previously Article 17.3 e). This is the basis for any SEAH-related sanctions imposed under older grant agreements.

[9] For SEAH cases under previous agreement templates, an overall assessment of the grant recipient’s response will have a bearing when deciding whether to impose sanctions, see previous Article 17.3.e) and these guidelines (version 25 March 2022).

[10] Previously Article 17.