Commission sets out steps for improving safeguarding in charity sector amid Oxfam inquiry

Written by Lauren Weymouth

The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into Oxfam and set out steps to improve safeguarding among the charity sector.

The movements from the Commission come after the watchdog examined documents sent by Oxfam, regarding the allegations of misconduct by aid workers in Haiti.

Today, the Commission said it has concerns that Oxfam may not have “fully and frankly” disclosed material details about the allegations at the time in 2011, its handling of the incidents since, and the impact that these have both had on public trust and confidence.

Further details about the scope of the inquiry will be made public in the coming days.

The Commission said the opening of the inquiry is in line with the regulator’s duty to promote public trust and confidence in charities. It added that it will ensure the inquiry’s findings are put on the public record and will also ensure the actions the Commission required of Oxfam in 2017 on its safeguarding culture and practices are properly and fully carried out.

It is the Commission’s policy, after it has concluded an inquiry, to publish a report detailing what issues the inquiry looked at, what actions were undertaken as part of the inquiry and what the outcomes were.

Commenting on the inquiry, Charity Commission deputy chief executive David Holdsworth 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."

Future steps

Amid the Oxfam scandal, the Commission has begun preparation for setting higher standards of safeguarding among the charity sector.

The Commission’s chief executive, Helen Stephenson met today with the Secretary of State for International Development. The Commission said they both agreed that charities need 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.

“We 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 regulator said.

“It is vital 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 by charities.

“Full and frank disclosure to the regulator and the relevant authorities, nationally and internationally, is also key. Everybody has the right to be safe, and the public rightly expects charities to be safe and trusted places for all who they come into contact with.”

The summit and conference follow on from the alert the Commission issued to charities in December 2017.

This alert made clear that any previously unreported serious incidents should be submitted to the Commission as a matter of urgency. It also reminded charities to review their safeguarding practices and procedures if they had not done so in the last 12 months.

The Commission said it will ensure that charities respond to this alert appropriately.

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