Exploring the Essential Duty of Care in NGOs

September 2023

Understanding and implementing the concept of duty of care is essential for NGOs. 

As an organisation that employs a workforce operating in various locations around the world, demonstrating your Duty of Care responsibilities should be at the core of your corporate polices.

Duty of care is a moral and legal obligation an organisation needs to undertake to protect the health, safety, security, and wellbeing of its workers. 


For NGOs, Duty of Care means guaranteeing employees on international missions are safe and healthy, both mentally and physically, and that reasonable practical steps have been taken to protect them against any foreseeable risks.


Some years ago, a volunteer working for an NGO in Papua New Guinea contracted malaria and died. When a lawsuit was brought against the NGO, they were found  guilty of failing to protect their volunteers in four ways:


  • They failed to inform volunteers of the malarial risk 
  • They did not train them to recognise symptoms of prevalent local diseases
  • They didn’t provide them with anti-malarial drugs 
  • They didn’t provide a support helpline for volunteers to use in case of emergencies


This is a good example of an organisation failing its duty of care.

Risk assessments should be regularly updated and documented when sending employees on international missions. What risks are specific for a particular location and what measures can you take to mitigate those risks? 
Don’t wait for a crisis to think through your emergency response. Build an emergency response plan, and conduct training with key personnel. Detailed plans, measures and assistance must be in place to respond to emergency situations involving staff, regardless of the location.
Knowing where your employees are at all times helps understand risk exposure and assists with accountability in times of crisis. Invest in digital tools to leverage tracking, monitoring and information. Utilising an app for your employees to access the latest health and security information sends the most relevant location-based alerts and identifies vulnerable employees.
Communication is critical for sharing information about specific risks as well as to account for staff and pass along instructions in the event of an emergency.
Provide your staff with safety and security courses, which include modules like security awareness, emergency first response, and dealing with different types of threatening situations. 
Aftercare is equally important. Support for returning employees who have been exposed to high stress environments should include a medical check-up, and counselling services. According to a recent report by the Antares Foundation, 30 per cent of aid workers report significant symptoms of PTSD upon returning from assignment. Monitor your employees to ensure their psychological as well as their physical well-being is being looked after.
Protect the health and wellbeing of your employees with international health insurance specifically tailored to the needs of NGOs so you can continue to support those most in need around the world.