Oxfam GB ‘deeply sorry’ for sexual exploitation in Haiti and flawed investigation

Report
from Oxfam
Published on 11 Jun 2019 View Original

Agency accepts findings of UK regulator and is implementing recommendations

Oxfam GB is deeply sorry for its failure to prevent sexual abuse by its former staff in Haiti, Caroline Thomson, Chair of Trustees, said today.

Thomson said Oxfam GB would use the report of the Charity Commission’s Statutory Inquiry as a spur to greater improvement and said that the agency accepted it should have improved its safeguarding further and faster after Haiti.

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.”

“The Commission’s findings are very uncomfortable for Oxfam GB but we accept them. 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.

“The decision to allow the Country Director to resign without a fuller investigation of his own conduct would not be permitted today, under our current policies and practices. And while the Commission makes clear that it found no record of a ‘cover-up,’ we accept that Oxfam GB should have been fuller and franker in its initial reporting of the allegations.”

During the statutory inquiry, and with the Charity Commission’s agreement, Oxfam GB referred information from 2011 to the National Crime Agency in the UK. We have contacted the Haitian authorities and offered to assist with any further investigations.

Oxfam GB also accepts, and has previously acknowledged, the report’s criticism that the pace of improvement following the events in Haiti was too slow. Since February 2018, Oxfam GB has significantly accelerated its efforts to tackle sexual abuse and reduce the risk of it occurring. It has accepted the review’s 79 detailed recommendations, and has already taken action in many of the areas they cover.

Thomson said: “We should have acted more decisively to address resourcing concerns raised by our own safeguarding team, and been more proactive in our reporting of serious incidents. But I am confident that Oxfam GB is changing, and that the steps we are taking are putting Oxfam on the right path for the future.

“Both the Charity Commission and the independent review of our safeguarding record since 2011 acknowledge the progress Oxfam GB has made over the past year. The review recognises our appetite to improve – citing better referencing and incident reporting, and improved casework, especially in Oxfam shops, as evidence of a sharper focus.”

In its report, the Charity Commission notes that Oxfam GB has tripled its investment in safeguarding, made significant progress on strategy, and taken steps to improve governance and oversight. To continue and strengthen this vital work, Oxfam GB has created a new Director of Safeguarding post; and appointed Clifford Isabelle, who has a background in child protection and law enforcement.

Thomson said: “Over the coming weeks, we will study the Commission’s full report and put together a broader plan to further strengthen our approach to safeguarding, in light of both the regulator’s findings and the forthcoming report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change.

“Our first concern is for the security and safety of those we serve. We acknowledge and admire the courage of survivors, and ask anyone who has experienced or witnessed abuse to come forward. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing, we will take the firmest of action, including by reporting allegations to the relevant authorities where that is appropriate.”

Thomson stressed the importance of creating a working culture at Oxfam GB which places as much importance on how it carries out its work as what it does.

She added: “As the Commission rightly says, meaningful change requires more than a checklist of policies and procedures. Oxfam will act to change its broader working culture, so that how we work is considered as important as what we do, and we will ensure that improvements are embedded at all levels of the organisation. We recently appointed a new Chief Executive, Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, to lead this change. His pledge, and that of all the trustees, is to ensure that Oxfam GB can never again be fairly accused of putting reputation above accountability.”

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, stated: “From war zones to natural disasters, from famine to epidemics, Oxfam operates in some of the most difficult environments on Earth – environments which always carry safeguarding risks. The true test for us is what Oxfam does to minimise these risks, and how we respond to incidents when they arise.

“As the incoming Chief Executive, my first duty has been to ensure that Oxfam learns the lessons of the past, and improves our policies and practice. Oxfam has a long and proud history of helping to save lives and alleviate poverty around the world, but we know this vital work relies on the respect and trust of supporters and all those Oxfam serves.”

Ends

Notes to editors:

For more information, please contact the Oxfam GB Media Unit on 01865 472498 / media.unit@oxfam.org.uk

Safeguarding improvements made by Oxfam GB and the Oxfam confederation since February 2018 include:

Investment
– Tripled Oxfam GB’s funding for safeguarding
– Created a Director of Safeguarding position within Oxfam GB, reporting to CEO
– Trained more than 100 staff around the world to investigate allegations
– At least one dedicated safeguarding lead in every country Oxfam works in
– More than doubled the number of safeguarding specialists at HQ

Victims and survivors
– Renewed appeals for survivors to come forward and report allegations
– Independent and confidential whistleblowing hotline in five languages
– Enhanced support for survivors of abuse – including counselling and healthcare
– Two safeguarding specialists to deploy in humanitarian emergencies, and new measures to ensure we systematically inform communities how Oxfam staff should behave and how to report concerns
– A Survivor Reference Group advising the Independent Commission as it reviews our culture and practice

Systems & policies
– Common safeguarding standards across all Oxfam organisations including a secure, central database to improve record keeping
– Clearer survivor-led policies to ensure reporting of potential crimes to police and authorities
– Improved, stronger policies on child protection
– Commitment to keeping people safe included in all Oxfam GB job descriptions and interviews
– Safeguarding training mandatory as part of Oxfam GB staff inductions

UK shops
– Enhanced DBS checks for all shop managers, deputy managers and volunteers who supervise young people
– Launched a pilot scheme of DBS checks for all new volunteers
– Rolling out mandatory safeguarding training to all 22,000 volunteers
– New volunteer application form asking about any history of violent or sexual offences

Working culture
– Mandatory safeguarding awareness course for 10,000 Oxfam employees worldwide
– Staff culture survey completed by nearly 4,000 people across the confederation to inform changes
– Increasing budget for culture change and workshops with all employees
– New performance management process with greater focus on how employees work as well as what they deliver
– Promoting feminist leadership principles

Sector
– Only accredited referees can give staff references so that misconduct will always be clearly flagged – even if a perpetrator leaves during an investigation
– Leading work with nine other major humanitarian agencies to better share information about offenders
– Collaborating on proposals for a global register of sexual offenders and humanitarian passport scheme
– Oxfam GB has committed up to £2 million over two years towards initiatives to make the sector safer
– Surveyed more than 400 partner organisations in 44 countries to better understand how we can support them to strengthen their own practices

Transparency
– Oxfam publishes biannual reports on all completed safeguarding cases across the global confederation as part of updates on progress towards delivering our 10-point plan. The latest update – including the fact that, in the last 12 months, Oxfam has taken disciplinary action in 79 cases, 43 of which resulted in dismissals – can be found here https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/10pp_progress_report_summary_may_2...
– Clear policies on reporting serious incidents to relevant authorities and donors
– Appointed an Independent Commission made up of recognised safeguarding experts to review Oxfam’s policies and broader working culture
– Historical cases, including Haiti, reviewed and reported to relevant authorities where appropriate

Governance
– Oxfam GB has created trustee safeguarding committee, led by Chair of Trustees, to monitor progress
– Safeguarding training for all Oxfam GB trustees and leadership team
– New Oxfam GB Director of Safeguarding has a direct line to Chair of Trustees
– Recruiting a safeguarding expert to sit on Oxfam GB’s Board of Trustees
– Hired a consultant to advise on global delivery of safeguarding training

Caroline Thomson became Chair of Oxfam in October 2017

Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah became Chief Executive in January 2019

Oxfam GB has shops in England, Scotland and Wales. Oxfam shops in Northern Ireland are operated by Oxfam Ireland and were not part of the UK Charity Commission’s investigation.