The Oxfam Scandal
by Maria Asaad
Oxfam is regarded as one of the most respected and well-known charities around the world. With approximately 10,000 staff members and work in over 90 countries, the name and reputation Oxfam holds for itself is fundamental. So when a renowned newspaper like ‘The Sunday Times’ had the “Top Oxfam staff paid Haiti survivors for sex” as it’s front cover, the detriment to such an organisation could be catastrophic.
The article accused Oxfam of covering up claims that senior staff members working in Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, used prostitutes in the area, some of which were claimed to be underage. Roland Van Hauwermeiren, then director of operations in Haiti, was one of the male staff members accused of this sexual misconduct.
Oxfam provided a statement claiming they deny claims of a cover up and that they deem this behaviour “totally unacceptable”. The charity claims that it uncovered the accusations in 2011 and took immediate action by launching an internal investigation.
According to a report by Oxfam made in 2011, four staff members, which included Mr Van Hauwermeiren, were given the opportunity to resign before the investigation had ended. The report claimed that the girls in subject being underage was unproven.
Matt Hancock, culture secretary, ordered Oxfam to hand over all of their evidence to the Charity Commission. The Charity Commission, however, later stated that it was not given full details about the use of prostitutes, stating different action would have been taken if all facts had been known.
The Times published a fresh story claiming that Oxfam failed to warn other aid agencies about staff members caught using prostitutes. It later emerged that Mr Van Hauwermeiren went onto work in the aid sector.
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, claims that the charity did “anything but” cover up or try to hide the incident. He did admit, however, that the 2011 report released by the charity failed to give details of the revelations, and only referred to them as “serious misconduct”.
Oxfam was later hit with further allegations that staff during a mission to Chad, in central Africa, which was also led by Mr Van Hauwermeiren, used prostitutes in 2006.
The Sunday Times also reported new claims that an alleged 120 workers from UK charities were accused of sexual abuse in the past year.
This prompted Oxfam to announce new measures for the prevention and handling of sexual abuse cases. Staff members working in the charity were coming forward to Oxfam’s chair of trustees, Caroline Thomson, with “concerns about how staff were recruited and vetted”.
On Saturday 17th February, Oxfam issued a public apology in The Guardian for the sexual misconduct displayed by their employees in both Haiti and Chad.
Mark Goldring and two other senior executives from Oxfam were questioned in front a board of MPs, the International Development Committee were informed that around 7,000 people had withdrawn and cancelled donations to the charity. Mr Goldring apologised for the damage done and stated that an additional 26 claims of sexual misconduct had been bought to light in the wake of the scandal.
Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children also gave evidence and claims his charity identified and investigated 53 allegations in 2016. He claims that the Oxfam scandal has been a huge “wake up call” for everyone in the sector.
During this time, former chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, made the headlines over three separate claims of inappropriate behaviour towards employees before leaving the charity. It was claimed that he sent inappropriate messages to young female workers about their dress attire. Although he was not accused of sexual misconduct, Mr Forsyth, who is now the deputy executive at Unicef, apologised profusely to the three workers and claimed he has “unsuitable and thoughtless conversations” with staff.
The Oxfam scandal seems to have bought to light a number of allegations of sexual misconduct in this sector, whether it is in the workplace or amongst the workers being sent out to aid in these impoverished places of the world.