Oxfam betrayed trust of beneficiaries, volunteers, staff and the public, says minister

International development secretary Penny Mordaunt tells parliament that Oxfam's motivation in not reporting sexual misconduct allegations appeared to be protecting its reputation

Penny Mordaunt
Penny Mordaunt

Oxfam was guilty of a "complete betrayal of trust" of the charity’s beneficiaries, volunteers, staff and the British public in its mishandling of the response to claims of sexual misconduct in Haiti in 2011, the international development secretary has told MPs.

In a statement to parliament yesterday updating MPs on the Oxfam crisis, Penny Mordaunt said it was vital that organisations did all they could to prevent harm and to report on and follow up incidents involving sexual abuse.

Her statement came after allegations of sexual misconduct in the charity’s Haiti programme when it responded to the 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean country.

Oxfam was accused of a lack of transparency about its investigation of the claims, and has since released its internal investigation report and withdrawn from bidding for further government funding until the Department for International Development is satisfied that the charity’s safeguarding procedures are adequate.

Mordaunt told MPs yesterday: "They did not provide a full report to the Charity Commission. They did not provide a full report to their donors. They did not provide any report to prosecuting authorities. In my view, they misled, quite possibly deliberately, even as their report concluded that their investigation could not rule out the allegation that some of the women involved were actually children.

"They did not think it was necessary to report that to the police either in Haiti or in the country of origin of those accountable. I believe that their motivation appears to be the protection of the organisation’s reputation.

"They put that before those they were there to help and protect, which is a complete betrayal of trust, a betrayal of those who sent them there – the British people – and a betrayal of all those Oxfam staff and volunteers who put the people they serve first."

Mordaunt said she had written to all 192 charities that receive UK aid to request details of their safeguarding policies, and was doing the same with all of DfID’s 393 non-charity partners and more than 500 private sector suppliers.

"The UK government reserves the right to take whatever decisions about present or future funding for Oxfam or any other organisation we deem necessary," she said.

"We have been very clear that we will not work with any organisation that does not live up to the high standards on safeguarding and protection that we require."

Kate Osamor, the shadow international development secretary, also criticised the "appalling culture of silence" about sexual misconduct in aid programmes.

She said: "Let me say very clearly that, for the Haitian women and girls fighting to survive an earthquake who were exploited and abused, it is just not good enough; for the British public and loyal Oxfam supporters who donate time, money, taxes and support, it is just not good enough; and for those of us in this house who support charities such as Oxfam to save lives in crisis and tackle the root causes of injustice, it is just not good enough.

"We need reform."

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