Oxfam fires 43 staff following abuse investigations

14 May 2019 News

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International executive director

Oxfam has dismissed 43 members of staff after safeguarding complaints were raised about them, the charity has revealed in a new report.

The charity’s latest progress report and global safeguarding data update following the Haiti scandal last year reveals that it received 294 safeguarding reports across Oxfam’s group of 19 affiliated charities in the year to March 2019.

Disciplinary action was taken in 79 cases and 43 people were dismissed. 

Oxfam is still investigating 73 of these but has closed the remaining 221 cases brought to its attention.

Of the investigations it closed, 23 involved sexual abuse, 25 were cases of exploitations including paying for sex, 74 involved sexual harassment and 98 were other forms of misconduct such as bullying.

There was also one case where information was not provided.

The concluded investigations resulted in 79 dismissals, 10 resignations, 45 cases of non-disciplinary action such as training, 58 cases where there was insufficient evidence and 21 cases in which the complainant did not wish to go forward to an investigation.

There was also one case that was later identified as not related to safeguarding, and seven for which there was “no information available”.

New roles created

Oxfam’s progress report also offers an update on the work the charity has undertaken over the past year to boost its safeguarding procedures.

The charity has created the roles of a safeguarding associate director at Oxfam International and a director of safeguarding at Oxfam GB.

It has introducing a single case management system across every country where Oxfam operates, which it says will “improve the timeliness and consistency of safeguarding investigations and reporting, including to donors and statutory authorities”.

Other changes the charity has made include:

  • Updated and standardised policies on a range of issues relating to safeguarding which will be reviewed on a regular basis;
  • Increased budget and resources to drive culture change across the confederation;
  • Created an enhanced induction course for staff with a greater focus on safeguarding, behaviour and culture;
  • Introduced a new performance management process that emphasises accountability with increased focus on how Oxfam works as well as what it achieves;
  • Agreed a confederation-wide commitment to ensure that Oxfam's 2020 Strategic Plan and ways of working are grounded in feminist principles and equality.

Meanwhile, the Independent Commission that Oxfam set up in March 2018 to review its culture and safeguarding will publish its final report in June, following visits to nine countries.

‘We are now a different organisation’

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International executive director, said the charity is now a “different organisation” to what it was when the Haiti sexual abuse scandal broke 14 months ago.

She said: “We have underpinned our unconditional apologies for the specific mistakes we made in Haiti in 2011 with real action. We’re determined to learn, cooperate and improve and I believe were beginning to see the tangible results.

“I believe that Oxfam staff now have a fundamentally deeper appreciation of what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, and more trust in the new processes that we have in challenging it.

“We have an enhanced framework of stronger safeguarding policies and increased expertise to better help protect people.

“We’re reaching out to experts and allies, sharing information and lessons. We are conducting open, honest reflections about safer, stronger working cultures and how to help ensure that all staff are living and able to espouse the values to which we aspire.”

Byanyima added that Oxfam has “so much more to do” and that it would never be a “perfect” organisation but that it would strive to be a better one.

She said: “Changing culture takes time, but we are on that permanent journey of understanding, self-reflection and transformations, both the subtle and the profound.

“That's what cultural change is all about, and it takes time. We’re getting that little bit stronger, day by day – we remain open and eager to keep learning and improving.”

Editor's note - 20 May 2019

This article has been updated after Oxfam issued a correction to the safeguarding data. Oxfam had incorrectly stated that 79 staff had been dismissed following investigations into allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment across the Oxfam confederation in the year to March 2019. It corrected this to say that 79 of the cases resulted in disciplinary action including 43 dismissals. 

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