Oxfam's chair has announced “a package of measures to strengthen the prevention and handling of sexual abuse cases” in the wake of revelations published by The Times.
In a statement published on Oxfam’s website yesterday, Thomson said the charity would strengthen its vetting and recruitment of staff, establish a “new, independent, external whistleblowing helpline”, overhaul its staff induction process and “recommit to report to the appropriate authorities in full, any issues that arise that could affect the safety of those we work for or the confidence of the public”.
Thomson became chair of Oxfam’s board of trustees in October 2017 having joined as a trustee in March of that year. She was formerly a senior executive at the BBC.
Thomson’s statement in full reads: "As the new chair of Oxfam I share the anger and shame that behaviour like that highlighted in Haiti in 2011 happened in our organisation. It is clear that such behaviour is completely outside our values and should never be tolerated. Oxfam prides itself of being a transparent organisation that works to make life better for poor and vulnerable people, an organisation that puts women at the heart of everything we do. In the words of our chief executive Mark Goldring, we are ashamed of what happened. We apologise unreservedly. We have made big improvements since 2011 and today I commit that we will improve further.
"My job as a new chair is now to look forward. Mark Goldring and I are working closely together to lead this. We will continue to address the underlying cultural issues that allowed this behaviour to happen. We also want to satisfy ourselves that we do now have a culture of openness and transparency and that we fully learn the lessons of events in 2011. Not only will we always be true to those we serve and those who support us, we will also be seen to be so.
"As a direct result of the stories in The Times, staff members have come forward with concerns about how staff were recruited and vetted in this case. We will examine these in more detail to ensure we further strengthen the improved safeguarding, recruitment, vetting and staff management procedures that were put in place after 2011.
"Earlier this year, our board of trustees appointed an independent consultant to review how we can better promote and enforce a positive culture right through all of our workforce and drive out unacceptable behaviour. This builds on the work we have done since 2011 to tackle abuse, including setting up a dedicated whistleblowing line and a safeguarding team.
"We will now extend the review's remit to take a detailed look both at this case and our recruitment and management of staff in challenging environments and emergencies, where the urgent need for staff to be put in place to help save lives puts enormous pressure on recruiters to fill posts. If that review brings about a safer environment for all, then the publicity of the last few days, painful as it has been, will also have been valuable.
"This is part of a package of measures that I am announcing today that will strengthen our vetting, and induction of staff as well as a commitment to drive positive behaviour among all staff and improve compliance with our policies. We will be meeting with both the Department for International Development and the Charity Commission during the next week to discuss the details of these measures and to explore further action.
"As recent events have shown, sexual abuse is a blight on society and Oxfam is not immune. Indeed, NGOs that work in often fragile and unstable environments can become targets for abusers. We have made significant improvements since 2011 in our efforts to expose and eliminate sexual abuse but we know we have to be vigilant and to continue to improve if we are to constantly live up to the high standards rightly expected of us. It is not sufficient to be appalled by the behaviour of our former staff - we must and will learn from it and use it as a spur to improvement."
In a blogpost on its website, Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, has also announced that STC will be looking at strengthening its safeguarding procedures following the scandal. Read the statement in full here.
NCVO welcomes new measures
Peter Kellner, chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, released a statement on behalf of the umbrella body yesterday, supporting Oxfam’s announcement of new measures.
Kellner said: “International development charities take abuse issues very seriously and are constantly working to root out those who are looking to do wrong under the guise of helping some of the world’s most vulnerable. All the major charities have policies and procedures in place and dedicate significant effort to minimising the risk of abuse taking place. However, it is clear that more can and must be done, not only to revive the reputation of those charities in the news but also to maintain public confidence in the sector as a whole.
“I welcome Oxfam's package of measures announced today. I hope they ensure that there can be no repeat of the disgusting behaviour that has been reported in the past few days. These reports should and, I believe, will prompt other organisations to ensure that they, too, enforce the very highest standards.
“We will work alongside Bond, the umbrella body for international development charities, and the Charity Commission, to ensure that all charities operating overseas are meeting the standards of the best.
“We will strive for a consensus, including with the Department for International Development, on tough measures that command the confidence of the public, many millions of whom lend their support to the vital international aid work carried out by charities. They will have been deeply upset by what they have read. They deserve better. We must make sure that bad behaviour, however rare, is never tolerated.”