Oxfam Haiti crisis: charity to enforce new ‘package of measures’

Written by Lauren Weymouth

Oxfam’s chair Caroline Thomson has announced a ‘package of measures’ for handling sexual abuse cases in the wake of the Haiti scandal.

In a statement posted on the Oxfam website yesterday, 11 February, Thomson said she “shares the anger and shame that behaviour like that highlighted in 2011 happened in our organisation”.

“It is clear that such behaviour is completely outside our values and should never be tolerated. Oxfam prides itself of being a transparent organisation that works to make life better for poor and vulnerable people, an organisation that puts women at the heart of everything we do.

“In the words of our chief executive Mark Goldring, we are ashamed of what happened. We apologise unreservedly. We have made big improvements since 2011 and today I commit that we will improve further.”

Thomson said the initial package of measures to improve safeguarding within Oxfam include the following:

• Strengthening the vetting and recruitment of staff, including making safeguarding a mandatory part of the interview process for senior leadership positions.
• Widening the current review of its practice to ensure it revisits improvements already made and learns additional lessons from Haiti 2011.
• An overhaul of staff induction to ensure staff learn more about the charity’s values and code of conduct and mandatory safeguarding training within the first few weeks of employment.
• Use the forthcoming recommendations from the ongoing review of practice to strengthen management oversight to ensure compliance with its policies and learn from its mistakes.
• Establishment of a new, independent, external whistleblowing helpline as part of an effort to encourage more staff to come forward early with any concerns they may have.
• Work with the rest of the sector in an attempt to overcome the legal difficulties which have so far prevented the charity from sharing intelligence among NGOs and other organisations about people who have been found guilty of sexual misconduct.
• Recommit to report to the appropriate authorities in full, any issues that arise that could affect the safety of those the charity works for or the confidence of the public.

"My job as a new chair is now to look forward,” Thomson said. “Mark Goldring and I are working closely together to lead this. We will continue to address the underlying cultural issues that allowed this behaviour to happen.

“We also want to satisfy ourselves that we do now have a culture of openness and transparency and that we fully learn the lessons of events in 2011. Not only will we always be true to those we serve and those who support us, we will also be seen to be so.

"As a direct result of the stories in The Times, staff members have come forward with concerns about how staff were recruited and vetted in this case. We will examine these in more detail to ensure we further strengthen the improved safeguarding, recruitment, vetting and staff management procedures that were put in place after 2011.

"Earlier this year, our board of trustees appointed an independent consultant to review how we can better promote and enforce a positive culture right through all of our workforce and drive out unacceptable behaviour. This builds on the work we have done since 2011 to tackle abuse, including setting up a dedicated whistleblowing line and a safeguarding team.

"We will now extend the review's remit to take a detailed look both at this case and our recruitment and management of staff in challenging environments and emergencies, where the urgent need for staff to be put in place to help save lives puts enormous pressure on recruiters to fill posts. If that review brings about a safer environment for all, then the publicity of the last few days, painful as it has been, will also have been valuable.

"As recent events have shown, sexual abuse is blight on society and Oxfam is not immune. Indeed, NGOs that work in often fragile and unstable environments can become targets for abusers.

“We have made significant improvements since 2011 in our efforts to expose and eliminate sexual abuse but we know we have to be vigilant and to continue to improve if we are to constantly live up to the high standards rightly expected of us. It is not sufficient to be appalled by the behaviour of our former staff - we must and will learn from it and use it as a spur to improvement."

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