Charity organisation apologises for ‘shameful’ actions
Oxfam has apologised for its “shameful” actions after a report found allegations that children in disaster zones were being sexually abused by staff were not fully disclosed.
The Charity Commission for England and Wales also cited a “culture of poor behaviour” among Oxfam GB (Great Britain) staff sent to help victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
It said some of the organisation’s failings and shortcomings amounted to mismanagement, prompting the regulator to issue the charity with an official warning.
Allegations included that child prostitutes were used by staff, including at Oxfam premises on the crisis-hit Caribbean island, and that safeguarding measures to protect the vulnerable were inadequate.
The findings said Oxfam failed to adequately investigate allegations that children as young as 12 or 13 were victims of sexual misconduct against a charity “boss”.
They also said Oxfam did not report allegations of child abuse by charity staff in Haiti, and that senior staff implicated in sexual misconduct claims were dealt with more leniently than junior figures.
The inquiry found that the focus of an Oxfam GB investigation, after allegations from a whistleblower in 2011, was on getting enough evidence to ensure the individuals of concern were removed from Haiti and the charity.
It said the risk to, and impact on, the victims appeared to take second place and was not taken seriously enough.
Details were also withheld from donors about the nature of the allegations, due to concerns it might have an impact on its revenue stream, the report found.
Charity Commission chief executive Helen Stephenson said what went wrong in Haiti did not happen in isolation.
“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,” she said.
Stephenson said “significant further cultural and systemic change” was required at Oxfam, which has been under the leadership of new chief executive Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah since January, to address the failings and weaknesses.
Caroline Thomson, Oxfam GB’s chair of trustees, apologised and said what happened in Haiti was “shameful”.
“It was a terrible abuse of power, and an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear. The Commission’s findings are very uncomfortable for Oxfam GB but we accept them,” she said.
According to Thomson, they 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.
The lengthy report, published on Tuesday after an 18-month investigation, found the charity failed to heed warnings, including from its own staff, that its culture and response to keeping people safe was inadequate, and that subsequent commitments to improve safeguarding were not backed up by actions.
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