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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Oxfam woes mount as charity commission in UK opens inquiry

Investigation will examine allegations of staff misconduct by staff involved in Oxfam’s response in Haiti in 2011

The Commission will ensure the inquiry’s findings are put on the public record and will also ensure the actions that were demanded of Oxfam in 2017 on its safeguarding culture are properly carried out
The Commission will ensure the inquiry’s findings are put on the public record and will also ensure the actions that were demanded of Oxfam in 2017 on its safeguarding culture are properly carried out

The troubles continued to pile up for the charity Oxfam on Monday, which after losing its deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, earlier in the day also discovered that it is under investigation by the Charity Commission, the independent regulator in England and Wales.

The commission opened the statutory inquiry after examining documents regarding allegations of misconduct by staff involved in Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Haiti in 2011. Four staff members of the charity were dismissed and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of an inquiry into claims that charity staff used sex workers in Haiti in 2011.

The charity said allegations that underage girls may have been involved were “not proven” but it did not pass allegations to police to investigate further. Oxfam is accused of covering up the scale of wrongdoing and the scandal has led to questions about the effectiveness of the UK’s aid programme.

The commission feels that the charity may not have fully disclosed material details about the allegations in 2011, and that its handling of the incidents since has also left more questions. There is also a worry about the effect that the allegations would have on public trust and confidence in Oxfam.

More information about the scope of the inquiry will come out later this week – the regulator has a duty to promote public trust and confidence in charities. The commission is obliged to ensure the inquiry’s findings are put on the public record and will also ensure the actions that were demanded of Oxfam in 2017 on its safeguarding culture are properly carried out.

A report will eventually be published detailing what issues the inquiry looked at, what actions were undertaken and what the outcomes were.

David Holdsworth, deputy chief executive of the Charity Commission said: “Charities and dedicated, hard-working aid workers undertake vital, lifesaving work in some of the most difficult circumstances across the world. However, the issues revealed in recent days are shocking and unacceptable. It is important that we take this urgent step to ensure that these matters can be dealt with fully and robustly.”

The commission’s chief executive, Helen Stephenson, met with Penny Mordaunt, UK Secretary of State for International Development. They agreed that charities needed to do more to ensure high standards of safeguarding and set the right culture and tone at the top and are committed to ensuring that this is the case.

"The commission are pleased to announce, with DFID, that we will be calling in key international aid charities to a summit on safeguarding as soon as possible in the coming weeks, paving the way for a significant conference" the watchdog said.

It is vital, the commission said, that trustees set a culture within their charity that prioritises safeguarding so that it is safe for those affected to come forward and report incidents and concerns with the assurance they will be handled sensitively and properly.