Oxfam’s focus and management of power was detrimental to staff, review finds

Written by Lauren Weymouth

Oxfam spent too much time focussing on what it aims to achieve rather than how it’s done, a scathing report into the charity has revealed.

An interim review into the charity, published by an independent commission, claimed the way 'power is managed' and trust is ‘earned and kept’ within the organisation has been at the expense of Oxfam’s staff and the communities they serve.

“The risks associated with reporting allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are often high; preventing and responding to such incidents requires the organization’s full commitment,” the report said.

But through conversations with staff, as well as research into Oxfam policies, procedures, and strategies, the commission said it was made aware of a “series of concerns that require redress”.

“Staff clearly communicated a pressing need to address the root causes of sexual misconduct and other egregious behaviours that put staff, partners, program participants, and ultimately the organization itself at risk.

“Staff have expressed a desire for change and called for a reformed Oxfam that creates a supportive environment for the people it serves, its staff, and its stakeholders; institutionalizes a culture of accountability; implements a “zero tolerance” workplace; is actively accountable to the communities with which it works; and recognizes and honours the diversity of survivors.”

The interim review was commissioned by Oxfam, following reports earlier this year that claimed Oxfam had tried to cover up bad behaviour among staff working in earthquake-hit Haiti.

The independent commission said it had welcomed the steps Oxfam had taken following the reports, including its pledge to improve safeguarding, but it warned efforts have so far been focussing on protecting its staff, rather than its beneficiaries.

“Oxfam has seemingly imposed reporting systems that have not been developed alongside, or with the input of, communities,” the report said.

The commission has subsequently suggested Oxfam leaders do the following:

1. Model Oxfam’s values, good behaviour, and commitment to safeguarding policies.
2. Empower and enable staff, communities, and partners to act through stronger systems when they see sexual misconduct.
3. Create space for staff to challenge bullying and negative power dynamics, and create positive space for better accountability.
4. Invest in personal and team reflections on how to improve Oxfam’s culture and behaviour for personal and collective accountability.

The independent commission is expected to conclude its work in May 2019.

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