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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 February 2019

Reports damns toxic Oxfam workplace that allowed abuse

Independent commission says management protected senior staff accused of harrasment

It was found Oxfam sometimes contradicted the very values it stood for. EPA.
It was found Oxfam sometimes contradicted the very values it stood for. EPA.

Serious mismanagement at Oxfam allowed a toxic culture of sexual harassment and bullying at the charity, an independent report has found.

Accusations included behaviours such as elitism, racism and exhibiting a colonial mentality. Tensions between expatriates and locals were commonplace. Sexism was not tackled by the organisation. There were also multiple allegations of nonsexual misconduct were not investigated by human resources and former employees said there lacked a confidential system to report such abuses.

Whistle blowers speaking to the commission expressed their desperation and deep dissatisfaction at the lack of action and accountability. Those interviewed claimed management “actively protected” senior colleagues who were incompetent or showed bullying tendencies.

“At the heart of this issue is how power is managed and trust is earned and kept. The risks associated with reporting allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are often high,” the report said.

Such inequalities allowed a culture that “can create an atmosphere that allows harassment, sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse to take place.”

The report also said Oxfam’s office was adorned with wall posters that promoted its values, such as accountability, empowerment and inclusiveness, but these were “not always understood or upheld in action - and sometimes are even contradicted." The commission is expected to complete its work in the summer of 2019.

In late 2017 Oxfam was hit by series of damning reports alleging it had covered up cases of staff accused of using prostitutes in Haiti.

Oxfam has accepted it failed “to properly prevent and investigate sexual misconduct by our staff,” and has sought to enact far-reaching company-wide changes to change its workplace culture.

The UK’s Charity Commission is currently conducting a separate review of Oxfam to examine its current and former safeguarding arrangements and its reporting of serious events to officials.

The damning revelations shed a light on other aid groups who had engaged in sexual misconduct such as Doctors Without Borders, UNHCR, Amnesty International and Save the Children.

“It is painfully clear that Oxfam is not immune from sexual and other forms of abuse that stem from the abuse of power. To those who have experienced such unacceptable behaviour: we are sorry, I am sorry, and we will follow up on any cases passed to us by the Commission as a matter of urgency,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam said in a statement.

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“We will use its emerging recommendations to bolster our ongoing improvements so that we truly have “zero tolerance” to anyone who would abuse their power over others,” she added.

Following the Oxfam Haiti disgrace the UK’s international development minister Penny Mordaunt said she would refuse to give funds to charities failing to stamp out abuse.

However, on Wednesday, The Times revealed the International Planned Parenthood Federation had been given £132 million by the UK government while one of its senior officials was under investigation over harassment allegations.

Updated: January 17, 2019 03:32 PM

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