Oxfam threatened with funding cuts as abuse scandal unfolds

5 minute read

Oxfam found themselves at the centre of a media-storm this weekend. Accusations of a cover up of staff engaging with sex workers whilst delivering aid in Haiti have emerged. Since the initial story came out an increasing number of allegations have been made regarding sexual misconduct within the organisation.

We’ll keep you updated with story as it continues to unfold.

What we know so far…

The charity founded in 1942 is being accused of concealing findings from an inquiry that staff delivering aid in Haiti and Chad entertained prostitutes at staff accommodation.  A small minority of workers face accusations of  trading aid for sex. Disgraced country director Roland Van Hauwemeiren is amongst the senior aid workers who have been accused of paying local prostitutes for sex whilst in Haiti in 2011 to help earthquake survivors. Similarly it was Roland Van Hauwemeiren who led a mission to Chad in 2006 on which similar acts of sexual misconduct are said to have occurred. Van Hauwemeiren, and the small number of his colleagues’, misconduct which led to his resignation was known and reported on in 2011.

The Charity Commission’s report on these allegations at the time stated:

“Many of the allegations reported against senior country staff relating to sexual abuse and exploitation were not substantiated, and the Commission has seen no indication to suggest that the risks to staff at Oxfam are any greater than those facing staff in other similar organisations.”

Helen Evans’ findings:

Following the events in Haiti, Oxfam took the decision to ramp up their safeguarding efforts by appointing Helen Evans.

An internal investigation covering 120 staff across 3 countries was carried out by Ms Evans maternity leave cover. In it, 11-14% of the small sample questioned said they had witnessed or experienced sexual assault. A total of 4 staff in South Sudan claimed to have witnessed or experienced rape or attempts to rape. Ms Evan’s, the former head of safeguarding, then attempted to relay these findings to the senior leadership team.

Ms Evans later escalated her concerns hoping to receive greater resoucre to safeguard staff and vulnerable people. Reports are said to have been sent to the Charity Commission and finally to the Home office. One of the claims Evans was raising was the deeply troubling issue of women being coerced into sex in order to receive aid.

In an email Evans questioned ‘if we don’t have resource to safeguard those we are meant to help from harm caused by our own representatives; then how can we justify the work we do?’

On Monday it was alleged that teenage volunteers in UK shops had reportedly been abused largely by members of the public when in the highstreet stores. Speaking on Channel 4 news Ms Evans stated that Shop Managers had covered up allegations of sexual abuse and even rape of teenage volunteers. Ms Evans added that she was troubled by the fact that Oxfam accepts volunteers in their shops age 14+, yet adult volunteers are not all subjected to criminal checks to work alongside these children.

In a small number of incidents foreign aid agencies have found themselves targeted before by abusers using the opportunity to work overseas to exploit vulnerable people. Oxfam have promised to overhaul their recruitment and vetting process which has already seen major changes since these allegations are said to have occured.

Watch the full interview here:

What have Oxfam said?

In a statement released on Sunday the charity stated that ‘This was a case of a group of privileged men abusing those they were meant to protect’. They commented on the ‘unacceptable behavior by a small number of people and the need for a sector-wide approach to tackle the problem.’ Finally, they reaffirmed their commitment to their core values, to rooting out sexual misconduct within the organisation, and promised to continue to implement greater changes to their own culture to protect vulnerable people.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam since 2013, has apologised and stated that he would step down if his board asked him to. However, he states he is committed to steering the charity through this period. During the exchange on Channel 4 news he highlighted the work Oxfam have done in response to the findings of the report. This included sending training teams to South Sudan ‘to make sure there was no uncertainty whatsoever about what was acceptable behaviour’. Further implementations of DBS checks for more staff in UK shops have also taken place. Goldring has promised to continue these efforts and secure greater resoucrse for safeguarding within the organisation. The Chief Exec, who was not at the helm in 2011, conceded that at the time ‘we did not do well enough’, before apologising for failing to act faster at implementing the changes. Considerable steps have since been taken to keep both staff, and those they aim to help, safe.

The Charity Sector is held to even higher standards than most organisations. The added pressures of already over-stretched budgets can make it difficult to find money to resource extra staff, particularly when quite literally every pound saves lives.

Penny Lawrence resigns:

The Deputy Chief Executive of Oxfam, Penny Lawrence has stepped down from her post over the handling of the scandal.

Lawrence stated: “Concerns were raised about the behaviour of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon.”

She goes on to make clear that concerns over Roland Van Hauwemeiren and his teams actions in Chad in 2006 were known before he was sent to Haiti in 2011.

“It is now clear that these allegations – involving the use of prostitutes and which related to the behaviour of both the country director and members of his team in Chad – were raised before he moved to Haiti.”

Government response

The current International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt has threatened to strip Oxfam of its UK aid money. To avoid such a response they will need to provie all information of workers use of prostitutes and other sexual misconduct.

Mordaunt states that Oxfam have done ‘absolutely the wrong thing’ by failing to give authorities the full account of events. She has now called on them to show ‘moral leadership’ in order to retain their funding.

The Charity Commission have similarly accused Oxfam of not disclosing the full details at the time. Yet Ms Evans claims that she did attempt to escalate her concerns to the Charity Commission and was deeply disappointed at their failure to act.

What next?

As more NGO’s come under scrutiny, Priti Petal, the former International Development Secretary, has accused the sector of building a ‘culture of denial’. Patel warned that what we have seen so far ‘is only the tip of the iceberg’ of a sector wide problem. Whether these statements are based on evidence or political game playing remains to be seen.

Oxfam ambassador Minnie Driver has stood down from her position.

The worry for many now is that the loss of trust in charities will jeopardise funding.

Whilst many have rightly expressed outrage and disgust at the actions of certain individuals in this case, on twitter there has been a wave of uplifting tweets pledging to continue to support the life-saving work Oxfam and other charities carry out. It is now more essential than ever that people continue to donate so that those most in need of aid do not find it withdrawn due to the actions of a few.



Georgina D'Souza

Former Digital Marketing Executive at CharityJob. Lover of cat-related memes.

You might also like...

Don't miss another post, sign up to our weekly newsletter

Thank you for subscribing, you're on the list for the next edition!