Oxfam 'appointed strongest candidate' for trustee position, says chair of trustees

Caroline Thomson responds to an opinion piece that accused the charity of failing to improve on approaches to safeguarding

Oxfam GB has taken "a range of measures" to learn from the Haiti scandal, its chair has said in response to an opinion piece criticising the appointment to its board of a former chief executive of the Charity Commission.

In an opinion piece published on the Third Sector website yesterday, Alexia Pepper de Caires and Shaista Aziz, co-founders of #AidToo support platform NGO Safe Space, said the decision to appoint Andrew Hind to the Oxfam GB board was an illustration that "abuses of power lie at the heart of #AidToo".

Hind served as chief executive of the commission between 2004 and 2010. In September he wrote an article criticising the "vilification" of Oxfam by the regulator and media over the Haiti scandal, when employees were found to have sexually exploited victims of a 2010 earthquake.  

Aziz and Pepper de Caires argued that "older white men" working within the sector were consistently enabled to "fall upwards" into leadership roles, that adding the decision was an illustration that "power protects and reinforces power".

Caroline Thomson, chair of Oxfam GB, said the charity welcomed the challenge of groups such as NGO Safe Space and appreciated their concern. 

"We appointed Andrew Hind to our council and trustee audit and finance group because as a chartered accountant, former charity finance director and former chief executive of the Charity Commission he was clearly the strongest candidate for that position," she said in a statement to Third Sector, adding that his "extensive finance and governance experience [were] already proving valuable" to the charity. 

Regarding the article in which Hind had defended the charity, she said: "We were aware of Andrew’s article when we interviewed him and he was questioned rigorously on this and on his attitudes to, and practical application of, gender justice and feminist leadership principles. 

He showed a very strong commitment to those principles and to ensuring that Oxfam learns from its past mistakes. This was a prerequisite for his, and any, trustee appointment." 

In response to Aziz and Pepper de Caires’ statement that Danny Skriskandarajah, chief executive of Oxfam GB, had "opted to shuffle the deckchairs rather than commit to leading the urgent and principled work needed to dismantle structural whiteness, patriarchy and colonialism", Thomson said: "The appointment of trustees, who are unpaid, is a decision for the board not the chief executive. 

"Andrew was appointed in December alongside Nana Afadzinu – the executive director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute in Ghana, who will also sit on the board’s programme committee, and Annie Hudson, a senior director of children’s services, who will chair our safeguarding and ethics committee.

"I am confident that under Danny Sriskandarajah's leadership Oxfam is changing – indeed, he was recruited for this very purpose. He is currently overseeing the development of a bold new organisational strategy that will address the issues raised and ensure we have the biggest impact in tackling poverty. 

"He is deeply committed to improving our culture as well as ensuring that our work takes place in the safest environment possible." 

Aziz and Pepper de Caires said NGO Safe Space had spent the past year in dialogue with other international non-governmental organisations on how to change cultures and outdated structures within the international aid sector. 

They added that many of the dialogues had been "direct, respectful, thought-provoking and held in the spirit of moving things forward." 

But they also accused some organisations of seeking to "paper over the crisis with lip service", and challenged leaders to commit to "urgent and brave ways of working rooted in radical, active, intersectional solidarities". 

Thomson told Third Sector: "We have already taken a range of measures including the appointment of our first director of safeguarding, introduced enhanced screening for staff working overseas and initiated a programme of culture change to ensure that our life-saving and life-changing work is carried out in a way that is consistent with our values. 

"We are determined to continue to learn the lessons of Haiti, including by putting survivors first and implementing the action plan agreed with the Charity Commission." 

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