Charities must abide by the highest standards
With more than 700 Hong Kong donors stopping their regular contributions, worth HK$1.1 million a year, to Oxfam in the wake of the Haiti scandal, reputation and trust are essential for such groups
Weeks after Oxfam’s sex scandal in Haiti dealt a damaging blow to the British charity sector, the shock waves are being felt as far as Hong Kong. It has emerged that more than 700 local donors have stopped their regular contributions worth an annual HK$1.1 million to the group.
The misconduct involved a handful of executives deployed to the quake-hit Caribbean island some years ago and did not seem to have anything to do with the Hong Kong branch. The fallout is a stern reminder for all those in positions of trust to adhere to the highest standards. As the saying goes, one bad apple spoils the barrel.
The scale of the impact is, thankfully, much smaller compared to that in Britain, where more than 7,000 people have withdrawn regular donations since the scandal broke. According to an annual audit report, Oxfam Hong Kong gave the charity’s British operation HK$34.43 million in 2016-17. Even if the funds were used properly, donors may be excused for feeling disappointed.
This is not the first time that confidence in reputable charitable organisations has been undermined by individual misconduct. In 2011, a woman allegedly working for the mainland Red Cross shocked the nation when she flaunted her wealth on the internet. Her connection with the charity turned out to be a false, but it was found that the group had redirected earmarked funds to other projects without the consent of donors. More recently, a former Unicef campaigner in Britain was jailed for raping a 13-year-old boy in the 1960s. Separately, Save the Children has apologised for the way it handled allegations concerning the inappropriate comments and behaviour of its former top executive in 2011 and 2015.
Unacceptable as they are, the scandals must not be allowed to overshadow the good work of Oxfam and its counterparts around the world. It is good that the British authorities have taken steps to contain the damage, but it may well take months or years before confidence can be restored.
The success of charities is built on reputation and trust. Only by adhering to the highest standards of conduct and accountability can they win the support of the people.