Oxfam accused of covering up use of prostitutes by aid workers

09 Feb 2018 News

Oxfam has been accused of covering up the use of prostitutes by senior aid workers in Haiti, who were there in 2011 following an earthquake in 2010, on the front page of the Times today. 

The newspaper has been leaked a confidential report from 2011 about Oxfam’s investigation into allegations, which said there had been “a culture of impunity” among staff in Haiti. 

In 2011 Oxfam issued a press statement saying that an investigation had been opened, and then another announcing the departure of senior staff. 

The Times says that sources told it of sex parties, with one describing it to the newspaper as “like a full-on Caligula orgy”. 

Today Oxfam said that the behaviour was “unacceptable” and had led to more stringent safeguarding policies. 

Last year the Times reported on other allegations of sexual exploitation at the charity. This prompted the Charity Commission to engage with the charity and tell it to improve its safeguarding arrangements

The regulator said that it expects details of the 2011 report to be included in a review of its historic safeguarding allegations.

‘Big parties with prostitutes’ 

According to The Times, after a whisleblower made allegations of “bullying, harassment, intimidation of Haitian and international staff and serious sexual misconduct” the charity launched an internal investigation. 

After the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oxfam had 230 staff and a £70m budget to deliver aid to victims. 

A source told The Times that: “They were throwing big parties with prostitutes. These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was a like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. At one party there were at least five girls and two of them had Oxfam white t-shirts on. These men used to talk about holding ‘young meat barbecues’.”

The Times was also critical of Oxfam’s handling of the investigaton, which was “limited by a determination to keep it out of the public eye”. 

According to The Times, Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director in Haiti, admitted that prostitutes had visited his villa. 

He was allowed to resign in return for co-operating with the investigation, The Times said. Two others resigned and four were dismissed as part of the investigation. 

Oxfam statement 

Oxfam said that the behaviour of its staff in 2011 was “unacceptable” and that its investigation at the time had led to the creation of a safeguarding team.

In a statement the charity said: “The behaviour of some members of Oxfam staff uncovered in Haiti in 2011 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation. 

“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. Allegations that underage girls may have been involved were not proven.   

“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 'whistleblowing' 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.” 

The charity also said that legal advice it received at the time was that if it had reported the allegations to police “it was extremely unlikely that reporting these incidents to the police would lead to any action being taken”.

Charity Commission statement 

The Charity Commission said it expects Oxfam to “provide reassurance” that it had learnt lessons from the incident. 

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “Charities are rightly held to the highest standards. The public expects charities to be safe and trusted environments that safeguard those who come into contact with them. Allegations such as those involving Oxfam staff risk undermining public trust. 

“In August 2011, Oxfam made a report to the Commission about an ongoing internal investigation into allegations of misconduct by staff members involved in their Haiti programme. The report explained that the misconduct related to inappropriate sexual behaviour, bullying, harassment and the intimidation of staff. The report did not detail the precise allegations, nor did it make any indication of potential sexual crimes involving minors. However, the charity’s internal investigation was still ongoing. 

“At the time, and based on the information provided, we were satisfied that the trustees were handling matters appropriately and did not have regulatory concerns. The Commission did not see a final copy of the report.

“We are currently engaged with the charity regarding its approach to safeguarding following more recent allegations. As part of that, we have already asked the charity to review historic safeguarding allegations and its response to them at the time. We expect the charity to include in their review incidents that occurred in 2011. We will expect the charity to provide us with assurance that it has learnt lessons from past incidents and is taking all necessary steps to safeguard all who come into contact with it.”

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