Independent commission tells Oxfam to overhaul safeguarding system

12 Jun 2019 News

An independent commission set up by Oxfam has told the charity to overhaul its entire safeguarding system across its international confederation.

Oxfam appointed Zainab Bangura, a former under-secretary general of the United Nations, and Katherine Sierra, a former vice president of the World Bank, to lead the review after allegations of historical sexual misconduct in Haiti were reported last year. 

The commission today published a 72-page report that includes seven recommendations for how the charity should improve its safeguarding governance.

Oxfam International said the report offered some "hard truths" but pledged to implement all its recommendations.

This comes after yesterday's report from the Charity Commission, which was highly critical of Oxfam GB's safeguarding procedures.

'New system needed'

The independent commission's report recommends that Oxfam International should “reinvent the system” by overhauling its entire safeguarding system including reforming its board of supervisors, hiring a chief ethics officer, appointing a lead survivor expert, and providing support to its partners.

The report says Oxfam should make reparations to help survivors “rebuild their lives on their own terms” as part of a “survivor-centred approach to pursue justice”.

It calls for the charity to establish multiple channels for reporting sexual exploitation and abuse, and conduct annual reviews of safeguarding systems with partners and beneficiaries.

The report suggests the charity should establish “an internal ombuds system” to provide staff with an independent and confidential place to report concerns. It also says the charity should continuously monitor staff satisfaction through surveys.

It urges the charity to “strengthen and diversify its leadership team”, continue public reporting of safeguarding cases, and work with other aid organisations to achieve “systemic change”.

Co-chairs Sierra and Bangura said: “Oxfam has tremendous will, energy, and commitment to reform. The challenge lies in implementation if Oxfam is to regain the trust of communities and staff, rectify historical injustices, and honour the organisation’s mission and staff.”

Oxfam International: ‘We will implement all recommendations’

Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima said her organisation would implement all the recommendations of the report.

She said: “This is exactly the report we asked for following incidents of sexual misconduct in Haiti that came to light last year.

“We set up the independent commission to tell us hard truths about our organisation, and to be clear about where and how we can improve. Oxfam accepts the report’s findings and we welcome its recommendations.” 

“I thank the commission for recognising and valuing the important changes we have already made. They have rightly said we must now be courageous in delivering further reform. I could not agree more. I want to humbly apologise to all of the staff and community members who have been harmed by Oxfam, its people; its leaders; its culture. We are moving quickly in changing our workplace culture and will continue to implement all of the recommendations of the commission.” 

Byanyima said that Oxfam had “not done enough in the past” to protect the communities it works with but said the charity was ready to “redouble its commitment in this area”.

She added: “The commission says that Oxfam has taken an important step in being publicly committed to change and transparent in its work. I’m heartened that it says we have the potential to become a voice of leadership in wider sector reform. But it has given a strong warning that we should not underestimate the task ahead of us – and I can assure everyone, we absolutely do not.”

Civil Society Media's Charity People & Culture Conference takes place in September and this year the overall theme is 'Wellbeing & inclusion in modernisation'. View the programme and book online here.



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