Charity Commission Criticises Oxfam over Sexual Misconduct Allegations

BICESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: A fork lift truck driver loads water sanitation equipment at Oxfam's logistics warehouse for shipping to Haiti on January 15, 2010 in Bicester, England. A cargo flight, which is being donated free by British Airways, will leave London's Heathrow airport for neighbouring Dominican Republic on …
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Oxfam has been heavily criticised by the Charity Commission for how it dealt with claims of serious sexual misconduct of its staff in Haiti, and in its charity shops.

Staff of the British Charity Oxfam — one of the largest charities in the world — were sent to the Caribbean nation after the Haitian earthquake in 2010 which left vast swathes of the country in ruins. It was later alleged that members of Oxfam’s staff had been sexually exploiting the victims of the earthquake, and that Oxfam attempted to cover the scandal up.

One of the instances saw country director Roland van Hauwermeiren accused of using the services of a number of young Haitian prostitutes. He was later sacked along with four others, with a further three resigning.

It was further alleged that abuses had taken place at a number of Oxfam charity shops, with the Charity Commission’s report citing 16 examples involving volunteers under the age of 18.

In addition, it was reported last year that fresh sex abuse cases were being brought against Oxfam for cases of rape or attempted rape in South Sudan and other countries. A survey of 120 staff across three countries found that between 11 and 14 per cent had witnessed or experienced sexual assault.

The Charity Commission described the actions as a “culture of poor behaviour”.

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Commission, said what happened in Haiti was not an isolated case.

“Our inquiry demonstrates that, over a period of years, Oxfam’s internal culture tolerated poor behaviour, and at times lost sight of the values it stands for,” Ms Stephenson said.

“The charity’s leadership may have been well-intentioned. But our report demonstrates that good intentions have limited value when they are not matched with resources, robust systems and processes that are implemented on the ground, and more importantly, an organisational culture that prioritises keeping people safe,” she added.

Oxfam’s Chair Of Trustees Caroline Thomson said: “What happened in Haiti was shameful and we are deeply sorry. It was a terrible abuse of power, and an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear.”

“We now know that the 2011 investigation and reporting of what happened in Haiti was flawed; more should have been done to establish whether minors were involved,” Ms Thomson added.

Last year the government cut off funding to Oxfam over the so-called ‘sex for aid’ scandal, with International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt saying that no funding would be forthcoming until and unless Oxfam met “the high standards we expect”.


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