Mercy Corps responds to details of abuse and commits to action

PORTLAND, Ore. — In October 2019, Mercy Corps and its Board requested that investigative firm Vestry Laight conduct an independent, external review into what steps were taken when reports of abuse by Mercy Corps’ late co-founder Ellsworth Culver were brought to the organization’s attention in 2018.

Mercy Corps also engaged law firm Nichols Liu to conduct a separate report evaluating the organization’s sexual exploitation and abuse policies and their applicability to these circumstances. Both reviews were published by Mercy Corps on February 5, 2020.

Coinciding with the publication of these reviews, our Board of Directors and Executive Team has also announced that Mercy Corps will: 

  • Conduct further phases of investigation into how this case was handled by Mercy Corps in the 1990s and to determine the extent of sexual abuse committed by Ellsworth Culver during his time at Mercy Corps. 
  • Develop an inclusive process to examine and reassess how we reflect the role of Ellsworth Culver and others in our organization’s history. 
  • Restructure the legal, ethics and safeguarding functions. We will hire a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, independent of both the legal and human resource departments, reporting to the CEO and the Board of Directors. Intake and investigations of safeguarding allegations will report to the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. 
  • Continue to strengthen Mercy Corps’ approach to safeguarding, including the intake, case management and investigative oversight for alleged ethics violations. 
  • Adopt and incorporate into our policies a clear and robust definition of safeguarding, drawing on best global practice and in alignment with Mercy Corps’ major donors. Clarifying within Mercy Corps’ policies their applicability to former team members and activities in the distant past. Conduct an audit of past investigations and publish an annual public report on safeguarding. 
  • Provide clear, effective and regular communication of Mercy Corps policies regarding sexual exploitation to employees. Mercy Corps will also ensure that anyone approaching the organization with allegations regarding sexual exploitation and abuse is treated in accordance with the values inherent in these policies, even if the policies do not apply to the organization’s engagement with them. 
  • Strengthen the Board’s oversight, governance and capabilities to ensure best safeguarding practices, including creating a separate board committee to oversee culture and ethics, including safeguarding.

The full list of Mercy Corps’ commitments to action can be found here.

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