Oxfam launches action plan to improve safeguarding

The move comes as the Charity Commission sets out the scope of its statutory inquiry into the scandal-beset international aid charity

Oxfam has launched a plan of action to improve its safeguarding and its responses to sexual misconduct allegations after a week of damaging revelations about the behaviour of some of its aid workers.

The announcement comes as the Charity Commission set out the scope of its statutory inquiry into the charity in the wake of claims of sexual misconduct in the charity’s programmes in Haiti, Chad and Liberia.

Oxfam’s plan to strengthen its safeguarding systems includes a new independent high-level commission on sexual misconduct, accountability and culture change, which the charity said would involve leading women’s rights experts.

The independent commission will be allowed access to Oxfam records and will interview staff, partners and communities working with the charity across the world. It will also publish a publicly available historical record of cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power at the charity.

Oxfam will also publish details of its 2011 internal investigation into the Haiti scandal, which led to the resignation of three Oxfam employees – including the country director at the time – and the dismissal of four others for gross misconduct after claims of sexual misconduct, and has already given the names of the men involved to the Haitian authorities.

Oxfam said the charity would triple funding for safeguarding activities to £720,000 a year and safeguarding staff numbers would double over the next few weeks.

A database of accredited referees will be created to ensure that references from people at the charity are credible. One of the revelations was that some of the employees who left Oxfam after the Haiti scandal went on to work for other international development charities.

Oxfam would not be issuing any references until the database was complete, the charity’s statement said.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: "People put their trust in Oxfam and we betrayed that trust. What happened was a disgrace and we are absolutely committed to rooting out abuse across the organisation. 

"These problems cannot all be solved by Oxfam alone, and we will work with the government, the Charity Commission, women’s rights organisations and others in the sector to implement urgent reforms."

Winnie Byanyima, international executive director of Oxfam, said: "What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so.

"Right now I have two utmost priorities for Oxfam: continuing to provide support to the millions of vulnerable people we work with around the world, and learning vital lessons from our past mistakes to make sure such abuse and exploitation does not happen again. Mark is absolutely the right person to implement these changes in the UK."

A statement from the Charity Commission said its inquiry would focus on examining Oxfam’s governance and management, and its policies and practices in relation to safeguarding.

The regulator said this would look specifically at the charity’s response, its handling of the affair and its disclosure to the commission and other organisations of serious safeguarding incidents, including in its Haiti programme.

The commission will also look at the recruitment and supervision of the charity’s employees, volunteers and other charity workers, how Oxfam provides a safe environment in delivering its overseas programmes and how the charity can maintain its reputation and public support.

Oxfam’s progress in implementing an action plan agreed with the commission last year to improve its handling of sexual misconduct claims will also form part of the inquiry.

As part of the inquiry, the commission will review case records and examine the charity’s handling of the Haiti allegations, its knowledge of previous accusations about the programmes in Chad and Liberia and its contact with law enforcement and other agencies and donors, including the UK government.

The National Crime Agency said it had had a "productive" meeting yesterday with Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, and Home Office officials to discuss safeguarding provision for people working in international development programmes.

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