Fallout from Oxfam prostitution scandal forces British government to crack down on charities
Young sex workers were reportedly hired by Oxfam’s senior staff in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake which devastated the island, and the UK-based charity tried to cover up the scandal at the time
The British Government said on Sunday it is warning all charities that receive UK aid to step up efforts to tackle sexual misconduct among staff or face having their funding cut, amid further fallout from a prostitution scandal involving Oxfam workers in Haiti in 2011.
The International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt revealed she was writing to the charities to insist they spell out what steps they are taking on the issue and confirm they have referred all concerns about specific cases and individuals to the relevant authorities.
“With regard to Oxfam and any other organisation that has safeguarding issues, we expect them to cooperate fully with such authorities, and we will cease to fund any organisation that does not,” she said in a statement.
Mordaunt added she will also demand all donors and development organisations show leadership and take action on the matter at the global End Violence Solutions Summit in Stockholm next week.
“I am very clear: we will not work with any organisation that does not live up to the high standards on safeguarding and protection that we require.”
The hardening stance follows reports in The Times that young sex workers were hired by Oxfam’s senior staff in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake which devastated the island and left up to 300,000 people dead, and that the UK-based charity tried to cover up the scandal at the time.
In the latest revelations, The Sunday Times reports more than 120 workers for Britain’s leading charities were accused of sexual abuse in the past year, “fuelling fears paedophiles are targeting overseas aid organisations”.
Oxfam – which employs around 5,000 staff and has 23,000 more volunteers – recorded 87 incidents last year, referring 53 to the police or authorities and dismissing 20 staff or volunteers, according to the paper.
The Charity Commission, which regulates the sector and will meet this week with Mordaunt, has asked Oxfam to urgently provide fresh information on the scandal in Haiti.
Meanwhile the Department for International Development (DFID) said on Friday it was reviewing its relationship with the UK-based charity, to which it gave nearly £32 million (US$44 million) last year. It said Oxfam’s leaders had “showed a lack of judgment” in their handling of the matter and their level of openness with the government and commission.
Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said on Saturday it receives less than 10 per cent of its funding from DFID and hoped to continue working with the department while rebuilding trust with the public.
He admitted Oxfam did not give full details of the scandal to the commission in 2011 but insisted it “did anything but cover it up”.
“With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about [the] sexual misconduct,” Goldring told BBC radio. “But I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was actually going to draw extreme attention to it.”
Oxfam is also accused of failing to warn other aid agencies about the staff involved, which allowed them to get jobs among vulnerable people in other disaster areas.
Roland van Hauwermeiren, 68, whom Oxfam said was forced to resign as Haiti country director in 2011 after allegedly admitting hiring prostitutes, went on to become head of mission for Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh from 2012 to 2014.
The French charity said it made pre-employment checks with Oxfam but that the UK-based organisation failed to pass on details of his transgressions.
“Moreover we received positive references from former Oxfam staff – in their individual capacities – who worked with him,” including from a human resources staff member, a spokesman said.
In a statement, Oxfam denied providing positive references for those implicated, and said they were likely provided on an individual capacity.
It added the vast number of aid operations working around the globe meant it was “not possible … to ensure that those found guilty of sexual misconduct were not re-employed in the sector”.
The charity said it launched an immediate investigation in 2011 which found a “culture of impunity” among some staff but has denied trying to cover up the scandal.
During the probe, Oxfam dismissed four staff members and another three resigned, including van Hauwermeiren.
The charity also said it had yet to find evidence proving allegations that underage girls were involved.