Oxfam accused of covering up prostitution scandal in earthquake-hit Haiti

Written by Lauren Weymouth

Oxfam has been accused of covering up for senior aid workers, who allegedly used prostitutes while working in earthquake-hit Haiti.

According to a 2011 report seen by The Times, Oxfam allowed three men to resign from their positions and sacked four male employees for gross misconduct, after they launched an inquiry into sexual exploitation, bullying and intimidation.

The newspaper revealed one of the men who was granted resignation without disciplinary action was the charity’s country director in Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren.

According to the report, he admitted to using prostitutes at the property rented for him by Oxfam with charitable funds.

The incidents, which allegedly took place shortly after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, were raised by a whistle-blower who claimed the men had partaken in “sex parties” at the residence.

Prostitution is illegal in Haiti, and the minimum age of consent is 18 years old. However, it was also alleged that the prostitutes may have been underage.

Oxfam subsequently launched an inquiry into the allegations, which also included the downloading of pornography, and noted there was a “culture of impunity”, that meant other members of staff didn’t feel they were able to speak up about the inappropriate incidents.

The charity has since been accused of helping to cover up the scandal by allowing Hauwermeiren to resign before the investigation had closed.

The earthquake took place in Port-au-Prince in 2010, killing hundreds of thousands of people and injuring even more. A number of charities, including Oxfam, rushed to the Caribbean country to offer support to victims and the 1.5 million who had been left homeless.

Oxfam’s response

In response to the claims, Oxfam said in a statement that the behaviour was “totally unacceptable” and “contrary to the values and high standards we expect of our staff”.

“As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation,” Oxfam said.

“Our primary aim was always to root out and take action against those involved and we publicly announced, including to media, both the investigation and the action we took as a result.

“Four members of staff were dismissed as a result of the investigation and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of the investigation. The misconduct findings related to offences including bullying, harassment, intimidation and failure to protect staff as well as sexual misconduct. Allegations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.

“Oxfam trustees, the Charity Commission and DFID, as well as other major donors of our Haiti work including the EU, WHO and UN agencies, were kept informed of the investigation and its outcome. The Charity Commission confirmed that Oxfam had taken appropriate action and that it therefore had "no regulatory concerns".

“After the investigation, we carried out a thorough review of the case which resulted in the creation of our dedicated safeguarding team and a confidential 'whistle-blowing' hotline as part of a package of measures to ensure that we do all we can to protect our staff, prevent sexual abuse and misconduct happening in the first place and improve how we handle any allegations.

“We know that, like us, our supporters will be distressed by what happened. We hope that they will be reassured by the steps we have taken.”

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