Ex-chairs and chiefs of Oxfam admit safeguarding errors

A group including former chief executives Mark Goldring and Dame Barbara Stocking and former chairs Karen Brown and John Gaventa say their efforts were 'insufficient'

Oxfam aid packages (Photograph: Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images)
Oxfam aid packages (Photograph: Andrew Cowie/AFP/Getty Images)

Former chairs and chief executives of Oxfam GB have admitted their efforts to deal with the safeguarding scandal were "insufficient".

The Charity Commission today published the report of its inquiry into Oxfam GB, begun after it emerged that seven former Oxfam staff had resigned or been sacked in relation to accusations they had employed local women as sex workers while working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Although the charity told the regulator at the time that there had been an incident of sexual misconduct, it failed to make clear the full extent of the misconduct.

The regulator concluded today that there had been mismanagement and "a culture of tolerating poor behaviour at the charity", and issued Oxfam with an official warning.

The response was issued by the law firm Winckworth Sherwood on behalf of a group including Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB between 2013 and 2019, his predecessor Dame Barbara Stocking, who was in charge of the charity when the Haiti case occurred in 2011, Penny Lawrence, director of programmes in 2011 and subsequently deputy chief executive, who resigned shortly after the story broke in February last year, Karen Brown, chair between October 2011 and October 2017, and her predecessor, John Gaventa.

The statement says the group were "appalled" when they found out in 2011 about the behaviour of some of Oxfam’s staff in Haiti.

"These members of staff let Oxfam and our beneficiaries down badly," the statement says. "We apologise to all those affected."

It says members of the group "acted immediately" to ensure all the allegations were investigated urgently by sending out an investigations team.

The suspected individuals were suspended and four employees were subsequently dismissed once the investigation was concluded, which was announced by Oxfam at the time, although the nature of the misconduct was not revealed.

"We recognise that the Charity Commission has identified weaknesses in the handling of the events in Haiti," the statement says.

"We implemented a detailed action plan to address the wider issues identified by the investigation, both in Haiti and across our international programmes.

"As trustees and senior executives at the time, we were determined to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse, and we established a number of programmes and initiatives to prevent and identify safeguarding issues.

"We recognise today that our efforts in 2011 and subsequently were insufficient, especially in the light of all of the information available to the Charity Commission in the course of this statutory inquiry."

The statement concludes by saying that safeguarding is fundamental to what Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies have to do.

It adds: "Those caught up in humanitarian disasters must trust the agencies which are there to help them, upon whom their lives may depend. They should be kept safe from all and any abuses."

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