Third sector case study: Oxfam sex scandal
On 12 January 2010, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing around 250,000 people, injuring a further 300,000 and leaving about 1.5 million homeless.
A number of international aid agencies deployed resources to Haiti to support the recovery. Among them was Oxfam, which had been working in Haiti since 1978:
‘Oxfam affiliates are working together in Haiti towards a more egalitarian and inclusive country, free from all forms of violence, where women, young people and men, fully enjoy economic opportunity, and whose population is protected against adverse social, economic, natural and man-made disasters.’
Problems began to surface in August 2011 following reports of sexual misconduct. Oxfam ran an internal investigation which led to three staff resigning and four being dismissed. The case was reported in the media at the time but coverage only specified that staff had resigned or been dismissed over misconduct. As legally required, Oxfam also reported the incident to the regulator, The Charity Commission.
Much later, on 9 February 2018, The Times newspaper published a front-page article alleging that senior staff working in Haiti, including the country director Roland Van Hauwermeiren, paid for prostitutes, some of whom may have been underage.
A timeline of events thereafter can be found on the BBC website.
You can also see the Charity Commission’s response to the Times report.
The case led to more allegations and similar cases being reported across the charitable sector.
The Sunday Times reported that over 120 workers at other UK charities have been accused of sexual harassment. Other allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and inappropriate behaviour were also reported.
Questions have arisen over whether Oxfam and other such organisations, including the regulator, have effective systems for monitoring, evaluation, accountability and governance (Khan 2018).
Work has been undertaken by Oxfam to set up training, review legislation, policies and procedures and set up additional practices to ensure that vulnerable people are safeguarded such as recruitment guidance and the appointment of safeguarding advisors (Oxfam 2019). This can be seen in their plan and progress report.
The events in Haiti occurred in the final weeks of the 2017/18 financial year and so were not apparent in that year’s financial disclosure, but funds (£1.8m) were set aside for exceptional costs relating to the incident (Oxfam GB 2018: 73).
The 2018/19 Report & Accounts have not yet been published (due June/July 2019) so the full financial effect of the Haiti incident are not apparent, but a leaked internal document from the CEO, predicted a £16m shortfall, associated with loss of funding and loss of donations in the wake of the scandal, as well as the potential for job cuts and the sale of retail outlets.
The British Standard ISO 22313:2014 for ‘Societal security. Business continuity management systems’ states that:
‘Through business continuity, an organisation can recognise what needs to be done to protect its resources (eg people, premises, technology and information), supply chain, interested parties and reputation, before a disruptive incident occurs’.
The exposure of these events could be considered as a crisis but how do you think business continuity management could have helped before and after the event?
You may also wish to read the evidence presented to the International Development Select Committee on sexual exploitation in the aid sector.
International Development Committee (2018) Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Aid Sector [online] available from https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/international-development-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/sexual-exploitation-in-aid-sector/publications/ [07 May 2019]
Oxfam (n.d.) Haiti [online] available from https://www.oxfam.org/en/countries/haiti [07 May 2019]
Khan, M.S. 2018, ‘Oxfam: Sex Scandal or Governance Failure?’. The Lancet 391 (10125), 1019-1020
Oxfam International (2019) 10 Point Action Plan Progress. Report 3 January 2019 [online] available from https://d1tn3vj7xz9fdh.cloudfront.net/s3fs-public/progress_on_10_point_plan_january_2019.pdf [07 May 2019]
Oxfam GB (2018) Annual Report & Accounts [online] available from https://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/about-us/plans-reports-and-policies/annual-report-and-accounts-2018 [07 May 2019]
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