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CRS Statement on Harassment and Protection Policies

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) works in some of the most difficult and volatile areas of the world, and we are committed to creating and maintaining an environment which promotes its core value of human dignity and prevents abuse and exploitation of its employees, partners and beneficiaries.

CRS employees are:

  • Prohibited from engaging in any form of harassment, discrimination, physical or verbal abuse, intimidation, favoritism, or exploitative relationships 
  • Prohibited from facilitating or aiding another humanitarian worker’s harassing or exploitative behavior—whether tied to CRS or not
  • Obliged to report any concern or suspicion of harassment or exploitation   

To ensure that we hold ourselves to the highest standards, we have rigorous policies and systems in place to ensure that our staff can report harassment and protection concerns, protected from the threat of retaliation.  All reports trigger prompt and thorough investigations.  And any violation of our policies results in appropriate action, including termination of employment and reporting to the appropriate local authorities.

CRS will not knowingly provide a positive referral for anyone terminated for cause and is committed to working with our colleague organizations in the development sector to make sure we have ways to prevent perpetrators from being hired into other agencies.

CRS Policies Related to Sexual Harassment, Misconduct, and Protection

All four policies are applicable to all CRS employees—worldwide—as well as consultants and contractors.

Code of Conduct

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is committed to creating and maintaining an environment which promotes its core values and prevents abuse and exploitation of all beneficiaries. CRS employees, consultants, volunteers, and interns are expected to contribute to building a harmonious workplace based on team spirit, mutual respect, and understanding. All are equally expected to uphold the dignity of all beneficiaries with whom they come into contact by ensuring that their personal and professional conduct is of the highest standards at all times. This Code of Conduct is applicable to, and binding upon, all CRS employees, as well as consultants, volunteers, and interns in service to CRS (collectively “Affiliates”).

CRS strongly condemns and prohibits all forms of abuse and exploitation.  Therefore:

  1. Abuse and exploitation constitute acts of serious misconduct and are therefore grounds for disciplinary action up to and including termination or dismissal. Exchange of money, employment, goods or services for sex, including sexual favors or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behavior, is prohibited. This includes exchange of, or threat of withholding, assistance that is due to beneficiaries.
  2. Sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18) or adults unable to give consent is prohibited regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally. Mistaken belief in the age of a child or ability of an adult to consent is not a defense. 
  3. When a CRS employee or Affiliate develops a concern or suspicion regarding abuse or exploitation by another humanitarian worker, whether within CRS or not, s/he must report such concerns following CRS’ reporting procedures.
  4. CRS employees and Affiliates are not to engage in any form of harassment, discrimination, physical or verbal abuse, intimidation, favoritism, or exploitative relationships. Sexual relations between humanitarian workers and beneficiaries are strongly discouraged.
  5. CRS employees and Affiliates are expected to behave in accordance with CRS’ values and create and maintain an environment which prevents abuse and exploitation.


The Agency is committed to providing a work environment that is free from harassment, thereby promoting the dignity and equality of the human person.

The Agency intends to provide a work environment that is professional and free from intimidation, hostility or other offenses which might interfere with work performance or the dignity of an individual. Harassment of any sort - verbal, physical, visual - will not be tolerated. This includes but is not limited to harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, disability, medical condition, marital status, veteran status, or any other protected status defined by law. Harassment of co-workers, counterparts, and beneficiaries are all equally prohibited.            

What Is Harassment?

Harassment can take many forms. It may be, but is not limited to, words, signs, offensive jokes, cartoons, pictures, posters, e-mail jokes or statements, pranks, intimidation, physical assaults or contact, or violence. Harassment is not necessarily sexual in nature. It may also take the form of other verbal activity including derogatory statements not directed to the targeted individual but taking place within their hearing. Other prohibited conduct includes written material such as notes, photographs, cartoons, articles of a harassing or offensive nature, and taking retaliatory action against an employee for discussing or making a harassment complaint. In the case of beneficiaries, it also includes threats, made directly or indirectly, which affect the receipt of assistance. It is also against Agency policy to download inappropriate pictures or materials from computer systems.


All employees, and particularly managers, have a responsibility for keeping our work environment free of harassment. Any employee who becomes aware of an incident of harassment, whether by witnessing the incident, being told of it, or being the object of it, is strongly encouraged report it to their supervisor or Human Resources. When supervisors become aware of possible instances of harassment they should immediately bring it to the attention of Human Resources. Harassment of any beneficiary by a CRS employee or representative must be immediately reported to the Country Representative. When management becomes aware of the possible harassment, it is obligated by law to take prompt and appropriate action, whether or not the person(s) affected wants the Agency to do so.


It is essential to notify your supervisor or Human Resources immediately even if you are not sure the offending behavior is considered harassment. Any incidents of harassment must be immediately reported to a manager or other management representative. Appropriate investigation and, if warranted, disciplinary action will be taken. All reports will be promptly investigated with due regard for the privacy of everyone involved. However, confidentiality cannot be guaranteed because action must be taken once an allegation is made. Any employee found to have violated this policy will be subject to severe disciplinary action up to and including termination. The Agency will also take any additional action necessary to appropriately remedy the situation. Retaliation of any sort will not be permitted. No adverse employment action will be taken for any employee making a good faith report of alleged harassment.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment may include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature when such conduct either:

  1. Has the purpose or effect of creating an offensive, hostile or intimidating environment or interferes with an individual's job performance. Examples include, but are not limited to, offensive pictures, cartoons, symbols, or apparatus in the workspace of an employee; or
  2. Is made a term or condition of employment or compensation (or in the case of a beneficiary a condition for receipt of aid), either implicitly or explicitly, or when an employment decision is based on an individual's acceptance or rejection of such conduct.

It is important to note that sexual harassment crosses age and gender boundaries.

CRS prohibits any employee from retaliating in any way against anyone who has raised any concern about sexual harassment or discrimination against another individual.

The Agency will investigate any complaint of sexual harassment and will take immediate and appropriate disciplinary action if sexual harassment has been found. This includes investigation of allegations of sexual harassment against program beneficiaries by CRS employees.

Special Note on the Harassment of Beneficiaries

Harassment under any circumstances is unacceptable, but when that harassment involves CRS beneficiaries it is particularly abhorrent. Any reports, including rumors, of harassment on the part of CRS or its representatives (including counterparts) must be immediately and thoroughly investigated. Any employee found guilty of harassment will be terminated. Sexual relations with children (under the age of eighteen) or adults unable to consent is grounds for termination. Sexual relations with beneficiaries is never permitted. Exchange of money, employment, goods, or services for sex, including sexual favors or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behavior, is prohibited. This includes exchange of assistance that is due to beneficiaries.

Protecting Children and Vulnerable Adults

As part of the guiding principles of CRS and the universal mission of the Catholic Church, CRS “assists people on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality.” CRS offers support to all women, men, boys or girls, regardless of creed, socioeconomic background, culture, disability, health status, or any other distinguishing features.

CRS promotes the wellbeing of individuals to realize their full human potential, in solidarity with others, respecting the dignity of every person and caring for the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Staff and Affiliates are expected to serve with integrity and promote right relationships in the delivery of goods and services while executing their responsibilities.

CRS recognizes the unique needs of children, women, and vulnerable adults and, therefore, commits itself to creating and maintaining an environment that protects these individuals.

Protecting Children and Vulnerable Adults:

CRS prohibits all forms of exploitation and abuse, namely:

  • Staff and Affiliates are prohibited from engaging in sexual activity with children (persons under the age of 18, regardless of the age of majority or age of consent locally)[‡].
  • Child labor[§] is a form of exploitation and abuse; therefore the agency prohibits the hiring of children.
  • CRS Staff and Affiliates are prohibited from causing any physical or emotional harm to children or vulnerable adults.
  • Staff and Affiliates are prohibited from the exchange of money, employment, goods, or services for sex, including sexual favors.
  • Staff and Affiliates are also prohibited from any form of humiliating, degrading, or aggressive behavior toward children, women, and vulnerable adults.
  • Staff and Affiliates are not to use their power or position to withhold assistance or services, or to give preferential treatment.
  • Staff and Affiliates are prohibited from using their power or position to request or demand payment, privilege, or any other benefit.
  • Facilitating or aiding another humanitarian worker to perform acts of exploitation or abuse is strictly prohibited.


All Staff and Affiliates are obligated to report any concern or suspicion of exploitation and abuse of a child or vulnerable adult involving CRS Staff, Partner Staff and/or other humanitarian workers. Failure to report may put the victim and the Agency at risk and is a breach of this Protection Policy and CRS’ Code of Conduct. 

Further, Staff and Affiliates should actively identify and report risks in CRS programs that could present an opportunity for abuse, or where safeguards are insufficient to protect children and vulnerable adults.

Staff and Affiliates are expected to uphold the dignity of all individuals and maintain the highest standards of personal and professional conduct.

Staff and Affiliates are required to report all forms of exploitation or abuse in good faith, using CRS’ reporting procedures:

Staff and Affiliates are not to investigate cases on their own; rather, they are to report and follow CRS’ reporting procedures.

Staff and Affiliates who report in good faith are not subject to reprisal.


All Personnel are prohibited from engaging in trafficking in children, women and men. CRS places a special focus on anti-trafficking of women and children, given their specific vulnerability and given the cruelty and perversity to which trafficked women and children are particularly subjected.

  1. In order to accomplish the purpose of this policy, Personnel:
    1. are prohibited from engaging in trafficking in children, women, and men for sexual exploitation or procurement of any commercial sex acts (even if this practice is legal in a particular jurisdiction) including forced prostitution, child prostitution and paedophilic pornography;
    2. shall not engage in trafficking in women and girls for purposes of forced or arranged marriages, or for any bride price schemes;
    3. are prohibited from engaging in trafficking in children, women, and men for removal of organs for the illicit organ trade or for the illicit dealing, running or trafficking of narcotics and drugs;
    4. are prohibited from using force, fraud, or coercion to subject a child, woman, or man to forced labor, begging, or involuntary servitude; and
    5. shall not obtain labor from a child, woman, or man by threats of serious harm to that person or another person. 
  2. CRS prohibits employment practices relating to trafficking in human beings, including:
    1. destroying, concealing, confiscating, or otherwise denying access to an employee’s identity or immigration documents;
    2. using misleading or fraudulent practices to recruit employees such as failing to disclose key terms and conditions of employment;
    3. using recruiters that do not comply with local labor laws;
    4. charging employees recruitment fees;
    5. failing to provide return transportation, unless exempted, to certain employees who are brought to a country for the purpose of working on a U.S. Government prime award or subaward, including any U.S. Government contract, grant, cooperative agreement, subcontract, subgrant, or subagreement;
    6. providing or arranging housing that fails to meet host country housing and safety standards;
    7. failing to provide an employment contract or work document where required by law; and
    8. knowingly obtaining goods or services that have been provided or produced by trafficked or forced labor.


CRS Guiding Principles require that all employees are responsible for good stewardship of CRS resources, including all types of financial support—public and private, as well as federal funds from grants or contracts—that enables CRS to continue its mission.

The agency maintains systems to detect, prevent and deter improper activities and misuses of resources. However, intentional and unintentional violations of procedures, laws and regulations can occur in any organization.

Therefore, CRS established a means for employees to safely report suspected financial and accounting misconduct and other fraudulent activity.

CRS will investigate allegations of misconduct while protecting those who, in good faith, report such activities. Employees should note that other complaint resolution procedures exist for reporting other types of complaints under the Complaint Resolution Policy: POL-HRD-REL-003.

External Whistleblower Website

Please see the External Whistleblower Website for more information about reporting on misconduct.