Oxfam needs to improve its overall governance and management of safeguarding, the Charity Commission said in a case report published today.
The regulator has also issued an alert urging charities to review their safeguarding and governance arrangements.
Oxfam was at the centre of national media reports in the autumn about claims of sexual harassment and exploitation, which prompted the Commission to open an operational compliance case.
The Commission has been in touch with the charity’s trustees and staff, and said in its case report today that the charity has “work to do”.
It said: “Many of the allegations reported against senior country staff relating to sexual abuse and exploitation were not substantiated, and the Commission has seen no indication to suggest that the risks to staff at Oxfam are any greater than those facing staff in other similar organisations.”
But it said some incidents “did not meet the organisation’s culture and values” and that there were weaknesses in how trends were being reported by the charity.
The regulator said Oxfam does “demonstrate elements of good practice”, but that “there is further work for the charity to do to in respect of HR culture, and the overall governance and management of safeguarding in the charity”.
It recommended that the charity consider the “allocation of resources” to ensure “an appropriate balance between proactive and preventative activity and the investigation of individual allegations”.
‘Taken swift steps’
The Commission said that Oxfam has “taken swift steps”. These include committing to an external review of its HR culture and a review of organisation structures.
Oxfam is expected to report on its progress to the Commission by the end of March 2018.
The Commission said it would also publish a wider report about the lessons from this matter next year.
In a statement, Oxfam said: “Oxfam takes the protection of our staff, volunteers and beneficiaries extremely seriously, and we have systems in place to help people speak out whenever they have a concern.
"We are pleased to have agreed an action plan with the Charity Commission which builds on what they recognise as strengths in areas of our safeguarding. We know there is more we can and should do to ensure that our practice meets our values.
“The review is a chance for us to identify where we can improve further so that we and other organisations facing similar challenges do everything possible to prevent sexual harassment and abuse happening in the first place and better handle any allegations when they occur.”
Charities urged to review policies
The regulator has advised charity trustees to review safeguarding and management arrangements if they have not done so in the last year.
Trustees should also contact the Commission about any safeguarding issues, incidents or complaints if they have not done so already.
Harvey Grenville, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “The public rightly expects charities to be safe and trusted environments where people are protected from harm, including the charity’s own staff and volunteers. So all charities need to be alert to the importance of safeguarding those who come into contact with them.
“What that means in practice will of course depend on the nature and circumstances of a charity’s work.”