Oxfam put its reputation before beneficiaries, says DfID

21 Feb 2018 News

Penny Mordaunt, development secretary

The development secretary Penny Mordaunt has said that Oxfam’s leadership team put the charity’s reputation before its beneficiaries in its handling of inappropriate staff behaviour in Haiti in 2011.

In a debate on safeguarding in the House of Commons yesterday, Mordaunt accused the charity of a “betrayal of the British people” for failing to fully disclose the events that took place in 2011, which included several staff allegedly using prostitutes.

Mordaunt said the charity “misled” its donors, the Charity Commission and prosecuting authorities by failing to provide them with a full report of what had happened.

She said: “In my view, they misled, quite possibly deliberately, even as their report concluded that their investigation could not rule out the allegation that some of the women involved were actually children.

“They did not think it was necessary to report that to the police either in Haiti or in the country of origin of those accountable.

“I believe that their motivation appears to be the protection of the organisation’s reputation.

“They put that before those they were there to help and protect, which is a complete betrayal of trust, a betrayal of those who sent them there—the British people—and a betrayal of all those Oxfam staff and volunteers who put the people they serve first.”

Mordaunt said she told Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring last week that the charity must hold to account “those who made the decision not to report”, whose actions “let those potentially guilty of criminal activity slip away”, in order to win back confidence in the charity.

Oxfam has already temporarily withdrawn from applying for any new government funding. According to the charity's accounts for the year ending 31 May 2017, it received £31.7m worth of funding from DfID.

Mordaunt restated her previous position that she would decide after 26 February whether to review the work Oxfam is currently being contracted by the government to do.

In her opening statement, Mordaunt said that the Department for International Development (DfID) had appointed Sheila Drew Smith, a recent member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to “support my department’s ambition on safeguarding”.

Mordaunt said: “She will report to me directly. We have asked to meet leaders of the audit profession to discuss what more they can do to provide independent assurance over safeguarding to the organisations that DfID partners with globally.”

Internal scrutiny

Mordaunt said she had asked her department “to go through our centrally held human resources systems and our fraud and whistleblowing records as far back as they exist”.

She also said the department is are reviewing any locally reported allegations of sexual misconduct involving DfID staff and delivery partners.

She said: “To date, our review of staff cases has looked at 75 per cent of our teams across DfID and will complete within a fortnight. Our investigations are still ongoing.

“If, during this process, we discover any historical or current cases that have not been dealt with appropriately, I will report on our handling of them to Parliament.”

She also said the new strategy director at the National Crime Agency “will take on a lead role for the aid sector” and called for anyone will concerns about abuse or exploitation in the aid sector to report them to DfID.

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