DfID says Oxfam must improve to keep funding

The chief executive and chair of the charity were called into crisis talks about allegations of sexual exploitation by Oxfam workers abroad

Oxfam's Mark Goldring and Caroline Thomson attended emergency talks
Oxfam's Mark Goldring and Caroline Thomson attended emergency talks

Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, has said Oxfam’s assurances that it is cooperating with the Haitian government over sexual exploitation allegations were not enough to secure its funding.

Instead, she said, the charity would be judged on its actions in future after a report in The Times last Friday revealed that three Oxfam employees in Haiti had resigned and four were sacked for gross misconduct in relation to allegations of sexual exploitation, bullying and intimidation, which were not reported to the Charity Commission or the government.

She also said she was considering establishing a global register of development workers.

Mordaunt made the comments in a statement issued on Monday evening after crisis talks were held about the future of the charity’s funding in the wake of the revelations.

The UK government gave Oxfam £34m in funding in 2016/17.

In this afternoon’s statement, Mordaunt acknowledged that Oxfam had made a full and unqualified apology to the people of Haiti and its staff in Britain because of failures in the organisation’s response when allegations were first made in 2011.

Mordaunt said: "Oxfam assured me they are cooperating fully with the authorities in Haiti and will do so in any other country where abuse has been exposed."

She said Oxfam had also committed to providing full details of those involved, who were not UK nationals, to the governments of their home countries.

"But assurances are not enough, so I have asked them to confirm to DfID by the end of the week precisely how they will handle any forthcoming allegations around safeguarding – historic or live – in a way in which the public can have confidence," she said.

She said she expected that the process should include external scrutiny and Oxfam must now demonstrate moral leadership to address the scandal and deliver progress on its assurances.

"It is on the basis of their actions going forward – rather than of their commitments in one meeting today – that I and others will judge them," she said.

She said she had also met Helen Stephenson, the chief executive of the Charity Commission, which has urgently requested full and frank disclosure of what happened in 2011 and is considering its next regulatory steps.

And Mordaunt warned that she and the commission agreed that Oxfam was not the only charity that must improve its safeguarding.

"Right across the charitable sector, organisations need to show leadership, examine their systems, ensure they have clear whistleblowing policies and deal with historical allegations with confidence and trust," she said.

She said the commission and DfID would co-host a safeguarding summit with the aid sector before the end of the month and agree a set of actions to strengthen safeguarding processes.

After the meeting, Mordaunt had issued a letter to all UK charities working overseas – including Oxfam  to demand that they confirm they had passed on all safeguarding concerns they had to the relevant authorities.

She said DfID had also created a unit to urgently review safeguarding across all parts of the aid sector and look at how to guard against criminal and predatory individuals being re-employed by charities and abusing again.

She said this included the option of establishing a global register of development workers.

Mordaunt warned that DfID would not work with any organisation that did not comply with its safeguarding standards.

Caroline Thomson, chair of Oxfam, said in a statement that it had made significant improvements since 2011, but added: "Oxfam is in total agreement with the secretary of state's further proposals. We recognise that we have some way to go to persuade her that we have the right moral leadership to be fully entrusted with public money. But we are committed to working with her, DfID and the Charity Commission to prove we can meet her expectations." 

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