Oxfam announces ‘comprehensive action plan to stamp out abuse’

16 Feb 2018 News

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International executive director

Oxfam has today announced a plan of action to strengthen safeguarding systems across the organisation and stamp out abuse, which includes the immediate creation of a new global database of accredited referees.

Oxfam’s announcement follows a week of scrutiny for the charity as concerns were raised over its safeguarding, including that an aid worker fired from the charity was hired again just a few months later.

Concerns have also been raised as to how much detail it shared with the Charity Commission over safeguarding concerns involving its employees in Haiti, and of those involving sexual harassment in its charity shops.

The action plan was agreed yesterday by Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director, in partnership with Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, as well as director across the international confederation.

Independent commission

The package of measures includes a new independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change, which will be comprised of leading women’s rights experts and which will be able to access Oxfam records and interview staff, partners and communities it supports around the world.

The action plan includes the immediate creation of a new global database of accredited referees, which has been designed to end the use of forged, dishonest or unreliable references by past or current Oxfam staff. Oxfam has said it will not be issuing any references until this is in place.

Oxfam has also committed an immediate injection of money into its safeguarding priocesses, with the number of people working in safeguarding to more than double over the coming weeks and annual funding will be more than tripled to £720,000.

Improve the culture within Oxfam

Other commitments include Oxfam improving the culture within the charity to ensure that “no one faces sexism, discrimination or abuse, that everyone, especially women, feels safe to speak out, and everyone is clear on what behaviour is acceptable or not”.

It has also announced its commitment to publish its 2011 internal investigation into staff involved in sexual and other misconduct in Haiti as soon as possible, after taking steps necessary to prevent witnesses being identified. It said that the names of the men involved have already been shared with the authorities in Haiti.

Byanyima said: "What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so. In my language: "Okuruga ahamutima gwangye, mutusaasire." It means "From the bottom of my heart I am asking for forgiveness."

"Of course words are not enough. I've agreed a plan of action with Mark Goldring and Oxfam's board of international directors. Right now I have two utmost priorities for Oxfam: continuing to provide support to the millions of vulnerable people we work with around the world, and learning vital lessons from our past mistakes to make sure such abuse and exploitation does not happen again. Mark is absolutely the right person to implement these changes in the UK."

‘Work at arm's length’

Oxfam said that it will release the names of those in the High-Level Commission, which will operate at arm's length from the charity, over the next few days. It said it will provide the resources it needs to do its job effectively across the confederation, including full access to records, staff as well as partners and communities supported by the organisation. It said that as part of the commission's work, it will “create an historical record about cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power that is as complete as possible”, which will be made publicly available.

Goldring said: "People put their trust in Oxfam and we betrayed that trust. What happened was a disgrace and we are absolutely committed to rooting out abuse across the organisation. We are doubling the number of people who work on safeguarding to make sure we are living up to our responsibility to protect staff, volunteers and the communities we support around the world. An independent commission is being established which will review our entire operations and tell us what we need to change about our culture and practices.

"It's vital that we act to prevent those guilty of gross misconduct from simply moving onto another organisation and potentially harming other vulnerable people. Within Oxfam, we're are urgently setting up a new database of people authorised to give references with an immediate freeze on references until that is in place.

"These problems cannot all be solved by Oxfam alone, and we will work with the government, Charity Commission, women's rights organisations and others in the sector to implement urgent reforms."

Ten steps

The ten action points that Oxfam has announced it will implement to help stamp out abuse are:

  1. Appointing an Independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change
  2. Reiterated commitment across Oxfam to collaborate with all relevant authorities, including regulators and governments
  3. Re-examining past cases, and encouraging other witnesses or survivors to come forward
  4. Increasing our investment in safeguarding with immediate effect
  5. Strengthening internal processes
  6. Re-enforcing a culture of zero tolerance towards harassment, abuse or exploitation
  7. Working with our peers across the sector to tackle physical, sexual and emotional abuse
  8. Active engagement with partners and allies, especially women's rights organizations
  9. Listening to the public
  10. Recommit to and strengthen our focus on gender justice externally

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