What NGOs must do to ensure their staff are safe while travelling

30 March 2017
Author: Matthew Truin

In an increasingly volatile world, global travel presents ever-greater risks to all. We have recently witnessed events around the world that have compromised the security of international aid workers and volunteers, from landslides in Chile to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Against this backdrop, the need for international charitable work is greater than ever before. NGOs are obliged to provide a duty of care to protect employees and volunteers when they are travelling to remote or unfamiliar places, but doing so effectively and preparing employees for the worst requires genuine foresight and commitment. 

NGOs must ensure that their travellers are equipped to protect themselves, and know what their next steps are should they find themselves in a high risk situation or disaster zone.

Take time to prepare, don’t just react

Duty of care should start before employees have even embarked. It’s essential that you have an understanding of any risks associated with your employees’ stay, particularly if it’s in a country they’ve never been to before. 

This doesn’t simply mean reading the news before travel – you should make sure all parties are familiar with the region’s recent history to ensure you are conscious of any potential political unrest. 

If employees know they need to travel significant distances within the country, ensure that they’re aware of alternative routes and have a plan of action in case they encounter a disruption. 

Evolve your approach to meet changing expectations

As technology advances, so should duty of care. Mobile software enables NGOs to stay in touch with employees through a huge range of channels while they’re travelling. 

However, workers also now expect the same intuitive service, convenience and functionality available from the likes of TripAdvisor and Booking.com.

To meet this requirement, travel management companies are also developing applications to safeguard employees further. These innovative applications will allow travellers and employees to remain in contact and to access relevant information quickly, including a ‘panic button’ for aid workers to swipe to make contact in the case of an incident. All of this plays a key part towards the future of duty of care for NGOs.

Protection is your duty – not just a contractual agreement 

‘Bleisure’, where travellers add a holiday onto their charitable trip, is also increasing in popularity. This allows travellers to enjoy the highlights of the destination at their own pace, but also makes management a little more complex for NGOs when it comes to duty of care. It’s recommended that you make it clear to travellers that they should arrange their own insurance for any extra days taken as holiday. 

At the same time, it’s important to remember that duty of care shouldn’t simply stop as soon as the allocated business trip ends. By booking with a travel partner that is experienced in operating in remote areas, you’ll still be able to access the regular contact and assistance needed should an incident occur when an employee has technically migrated into leisure time. 

Duty of care is about reducing risk to your people through assessment, informed decision making and preparing for the worst – allowing aid workers to do the crucial and important work they’ve been sent to do.

Find out more about Diversity Travel. 

About the author

Matthew Truin
Diversity Travel

Matthew Truin is operations director of Diversity Travel, a travel management company specialising in charity, academic, and not-for-profit travel.