Commission contacts Oxfam in wake of Haiti prostitution claims

According to newspaper reports, three staff in the Caribbean country resigned and four were sacked after the charity ran a probe into allegations of sexual exploitation, bullying and the use of pornography

The 2010 earthquake caused extensive damage in Haiti
The 2010 earthquake caused extensive damage in Haiti

The Charity Commission has contacted Oxfam in relation to claims that some employees of the charity in Haiti were allowed to resign or were sacked for gross misconduct after allegedly using prostitutes.

A story in The Times newspaper today claimed that three employees resigned and four were sacked for gross misconduct after the charity concluded an investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation, bullying and intimidation, and the downloading of pornography.

In a statement, Oxfam said that claims some of the incidents involved under-age girls "were not proven" and a "thorough review of the case" was carried out after an internal investigation was completed.

Oxfam also confirmed that one of the three employees who resigned was the country director.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said it was told in 2011 about an ongoing internal investigation into claims of misconduct made against staff in Oxfam’s Haiti programme – at the time dealing with the after-effects of the 2010 earthquake – but was not told of the nature of the claims or that it involved "potential sexual crimes involving minors".

She said: "In August 2011, Oxfam made a report to the commission about an ongoing internal investigation into allegations of misconduct by staff members involved in its Haiti programme. The report explained that the misconduct related to inappropriate sexual behaviour, bullying, harassment and the intimidation of staff.

"The report did not detail the precise allegations, nor did it make any indication of potential sexual crimes involving minors. However, the charity’s internal investigation was still ongoing.

"At the time, and based on the information provided, we were satisfied that the trustees were handling matters appropriately and did not have regulatory concerns. The commission did not see a final copy of the report."

The spokeswoman confirmed that the commission was engaging with the charity "regarding its approach to safeguarding after more recent allegations".

She said: "We will expect the charity to provide us with assurance that it has learnt lessons from past incidents and is taking all necessary steps to safeguard all who come into contact with it."

The Oxfam statement said: "The behaviour of some members of Oxfam staff uncovered in Haiti in 2011 was totally unacceptable, contrary to our values and the high standards we expect of our staff. As soon as we became aware of the allegations we immediately launched an internal investigation.

"Our primary aim was always to root out and take action against those involved, and we publicly announced, including to media, both the investigation and the action we took as a result.  

"Four members of staff were dismissed as a result of the investigation and three, including the country director, resigned before the end of the investigation. Allegations that under-age girls might have been involved were not proven."

The statement said that the charity’s review of the case resulted in the creation of a dedicated safeguarding team and a confidential whistle-blowing hotline.

The new claims follow stories last year that a former Oxfam manager was sacked after she made a complaint of sexual assault against a senior colleague.

The commission later told Oxfam to review its culture, management and governance arrangements because of weaknesses in how trends in safeguarding allegations were picked up by the charity.

The charity confirmed last year that it had dealt with 87 allegations of sexual abuse by staff in 2016/17.

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