Oxfam: We ‘failed to get the tone right’ in initial responses to Haiti scandal

Written by Lauren Weymouth

Oxfam failed to ‘get the tone right’ in its initial responses to the Haiti scandal and subsequently didn’t apologise to the public quick enough, its director of communications said.

Speaking to delegates at the IoF Fundraising Convention today, Matthew Sherrington said the charity “didn’t get the tone right” in its initial responses to the media reports of the Haiti sex scandal, due to an “internal grapple” caused by a “sense of unfairness”.

Sherrington told delegates the management team was unaware of the case in Haiti eight years ago, meaning the initial responses were that of 'perplexity and defensiveness’.

“We didn’t get the tone right at the beginning. We knew [the Haiti case] was investigated – people were disciplined through HR, it had been reported to donors and reported to the Charity Commission. So, we started off being perplexed and therefore defensive,” he said.

“We pride ourselves on transparency and these cases are reported on our annual reviews unlike any other NGO, and so a sense of unfairness kicked in.

“So, there’s an awful lot of internal bewilderment that kicks in that sometimes affects the tone. We didn’t get it right in the first few days because of this internal emotional reaction and that was a real lesson to learn. The tone also has to be authentic, so there’s an internal grapple with coming to terms with something we didn’t think we did wrong, but clearly, we did.”

He added that the charity should have apologised faster in its initial responses and that it “didn’t apologise enough”.

Oxfam was 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 earlier this year, Oxfam allegedly 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.

However, Sherrington said the charity “totally refutes” the accusations of a cover-up. He claimed the accusations they come from the use of the term “gross misconduct”, rather than “sexual misconduct”.

“At the extreme end of everything, there were questions around our integrity. We were accused or alleged that we had covered up things in Haiti, which is something that we completely reject. We will wait to see what the Charity Commission decides on that.”

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