Oxfam failures laid bare

Aid workers

An interim review of the charity's work on safeguarding, cultural change and misconduct has highlighted shortcomings at the organisation

17th January 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Oxfam failed to take action to prevent sexual misconduct and bullying, a damning independent review has found.

An interim report on the charity’s work on safeguarding, cultural change and sexual misconduct reveals there are drastic inconsistences in the way that issues are handled across the 90-plus countries the charity operates in.

The review – carried out by an independent commission of policy and legal experts – highlights a lack of robust policies and procedures that has resulted in unacceptable behaviour being misunderstood or failing to be addressed.

It states: “Going beyond sexual misconduct, the commission has heard from staff who feel that Oxfam’s environment and processes for preventing and responding to harassment and bullying are deficient to the point that staff morale is compromised at times.”

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, welcomed the report – which is seen as an important part of tackling the root causes of abuse.

“It is painfully clear that Oxfam is not immune from sexual and other forms of abuse that stem from the abuse of power," she said.

"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."

The report highlights that Oxfam often prioritises its aims over the communities it supports.

It said: "The commissioners have heard great appreciation for Oxfam’s work from the local organisations that partner with Oxfam, as well as the communities it serves.

"However, the commission has found that the organisation has prioritised what it aims to achieve over how it is done, at some cost to its staff and the communities they serve."

The interim report concentrates on policies relating to staff, since its research addressing the concerns of communities and partner organisations remains ongoing. The independent commission is expected to conclude its work in May 2019.

Alongside sexual misconduct, staff have also highlighted elitism, colonial behaviour, racism and sexism amongst their concerns.

The commission acknowledged Oxfam’s introduction of a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual misconduct, including a rule that states investigations will continue even if the accused resigns.

But it added that former staff, including survivors and whistleblowers, felt “deeply frustrated and saddened at the lack of accountability they experienced”. In some cases, staff believed they had been pushed out of the organisation after reporting an incident.

The commission added that there were concerns accused employees had not been held accountable. Instead, they were either protected by senior managers, moved around the organisation, or their contracts were simply not renewed.