Human Rights |Developing

Oxfam leader promises change for scandal-ridden charity

Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima told the BBC that the disaster relief charity will create a commission to look into past and present accusations of exploitation by its workers.

Her comments are the latest effort from the charity to make amends after The Times newspaper published an investigation claiming that Oxfam workers paid for sex and engaged in exploitative behavior while providing aid to Haiti following a devastating earthquake in 2010, and allegedly covered up the subsequent internal investigation.

On February 19, the charity released the findings of the 2011 internal investigation. The document says that former Haiti director Roland van Hauwermeiren employed sex workers at Oxfam-rented accommodation before resigning, a claim Hauwermeiren has previously denied.

Although Byanyima acknowledged that the charity she leads was “very hurt” by the scandal, she said: “There is no way this organization can die. The world needs it.”

Apart from setting up an independent commission, Byanyima said the reforms would include more money and staff for Oxfam’s safeguarding team, a worldwide database of certified referees to fight reference fraud, and an external and anonymous whistleblowing system to report abuses.

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On February 14, Britain’s regulator for the sector, the Charity Commission, met with Oxfam officials (Financial Times, may be behind paywall) to discuss the alleged concealment of a report of sex parties and workers using sex workers in Haiti. Sex for money is illegal there.

When did the Oxfam sex scandal come to light?

The Times published its investigation on February 9 in which it claimed that Oxfam – a confederation of charities focused on the alleviation of global poverty – covered up the findings of an investigation into sexual misconduct by staff in Haiti. The investigation found that high-level employees in the Caribbean country were throwing parties and paying sex workers while delivering aid there. In 2010, Haiti was rocked by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed an estimated 220,000 people and left over 1 million destitute (The Times).

The backlash

On February 11, the UK minister for international development Penny Mordaunt accused Oxfam of doing “absolutely the wrong thing” by failing to disclose details of the internal investigation. Mordaunt also said no government could partner with an organization that did not “have the moral leadership to do the right thing.” Oxfam’s internal inquiry ended with four people being fired and three others resigning, including the Van Hauwermeiren.

Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise, said Oxfam’s behavior had been “an extremely serious violation of human dignity.”

Oxfam Great Britain’s deputy chief executive resigned on February 12. Meanwhile, Oxfam GB officials met Mordaunt to persuade her not to cut their funding. According to its 2016/17 annual report, Oxfam GB received £32.5 million ($44.9 million) from the UK government for the fiscal year 2016-17; employs over 5,000 employees, with 27,000 volunteers; and has helped 11.6 million people living in poverty. European Commission officials have said they are also considering pulling £29 million in funding from Oxfam.

Other British officials have also spoken out about the scandal. Former Oxfam official, and current Labour Party county councilor, Helen Evans, told Britain’s Channel 4 broadcaster that she had received numerous accusations of aid workers behaving corruptly or improperly. Evans, who was Oxfam’s global head of safeguarding from 2012-2015, also claimed that Chief Executive Mark Goldring and his leadership team canceled a meeting to discuss her concerns about widespread abuse involving Oxfam workers.

On February 13, actress Minnie Driver stepped down as an ambassador for Oxfam and expressed her shock at the situation in a tweet. Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also resigned as Oxfam ambassador.

More organizations that have relationships with Oxfam, such as UK store Marks and Spencer and the Duke of Edinburgh Award youth program, have also conveyed their concern about the scandal and are considering pulling support for the charity.

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Talk (7)

George Engels

George Engels

"Hi Leo, thanks for your suggestion, w..."
LS

Leo Sauermann

"The wording "director used prostitute..."
SB

Sarah Braun

"Thanks for your reply, Angela. Since ..."
Angela Long

Angela Long

"Thanks Sarah. We half-expect there'll..."

Sources & References

New….

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/oxfam-sex-scandal-charity-chief-mark-goldring-knew-of-allegations-d6msdcxj2

Times of London

Oxfam’s chief executive failed to act on allegations that a woman was coerced to have sex in return for aid in a disaster zone, a new whistleblower has claimed.

Helen Evans, the charity’s global head of safeguarding from 2012-15, claimed that Mark Goldring and his leadership team cancelled a meeting to discuss her concerns about widespread abuse involving Oxfam workers.

Helen Evans said she had received three allegations of sexual misconduct and abusive behaviour by Oxfam workers in one day

Author

United Kingdom
George (Jorge) Engels is a staff journalist and producer at WikiTribune. He's originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has lived in London for five years. He has a background in history and philosophy and a strong interest in international politics and social affairs. His work has been published by The Sunday Times, The Camden New Journal, The West End Extra and the Islington Tribune.

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  1. The wording “director used prostitute” is derogative against sex workers and their place in society. If the business relationship was an exchange of sex against money, the term would be “director hired prostitutes” or “used the services provided by” or simply “had sex with”.

    In the Newsletter it says “Oxfam says Haiti director admitted using prostitutes “.

    1. Hi Leo, thanks for your suggestion, we’ve just changed the wording.

  2. The scandal here is that people funded by the UK (government) were paying for sex with locals.

    I am interested to know whether this has ever happened in other contexts, or is Oxfam being singled out unfairly? For example, are there any known examples of UK Forces personnel paying for sex while abroad? Or UK trade missions? Or UK embassy staff?

    I hope Oxfam isn’t being expected to hold up a higher standard of morality than other organisations…

    1. Fair point – it would be very surprising if diplomats and soldiers had never paid for sex while on post. It’s relevant if prostitution is legal in the particular country (for example, Australia, although the situation is not uniform across the states).
      We are hoping to get together a piece on moral standards expected of aid organisations. I haven’t actually read any, but presume these will soon be appearing in other media, so we have to beat them if possible.

    2. Penny Mordaunt, the DFID secretary, has said that the government has written to many charity agencies: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/oxfam-haiti-prostitutes-allegations-latest-penny-mourdant-international-development-secretary-moral-a8205311.html

      Additionally, I think this particular story should focus solely on the Oxfam scandal, since it is bigger than first expected.

      1. Thanks Sarah. We half-expect there’ll be revelations from other organisations. What is at point is how they handled misbehavior.

        1. Thanks for your reply, Angela. Since the scandal is expanding further, especially in light of new reports against Oxfam staff in Asia (BBC report here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43060802) that we should start a WikiProject about abuse in the aid sector?

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