Oxfam should lead sector-wide inquiry into sexual misconduct, MPs hear

Brian Concannon of the Institute for Democracy and Justice in Haiti tells the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Haiti that this would have more impact than Oxfam's own internal safeguarding commission

The aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake
The aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake

Oxfam should help to lead a sector-wide inquiry into the response of international development charities to sexual misconduct by staff, MPs have been told.

Appearing at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Haiti yesterday, Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Democracy and Justice in Haiti, said that although it was good Oxfam had launched an internal safeguarding commission, a sector-wide commission would have more impact.

He said Oxfam had a "unique opportunity to play a historic role in structural change for the sector" and the charity should take a leadership role because it was the public face of the sexual misconduct crisis.

Concannon also warned that 23 organisations in Haiti alone had reported sexual exploitation problems and Oxfam was merely the "tip of the iceberg" in a sector-wide problem.

"The whole sector is in a boat that is sinking, and we need to fix the boat," he said.

Concannon said that any sector-wide inquiry should review accountability structures and procedures, gaps in existing standards and how complaints are dealt with.

Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for Doughty Street International, said she supported Concannon’s proposal for a sector-wide inquiry, adding that "an organisation-specific approach is not going to have the sector-wide impact that it needs to have".

Also appearing at the meeting, Nick Roseveare, director of international programmes at Oxfam, said "there is a strong case for Oxfam to try to play our part in trying to discover some of the right answers for the sector" and there should be a sector-wide look at the issue of sexual misconduct in aid.

He said work should be done to ensure "the rest of the iceberg is exposed" and accepted that the safeguarding measures the charity introduced after the 2011 Haiti incident were "not sufficient".

But Roseveare shied away from saying that Oxfam should lead any inquiry into the sector because "we don’t have all the answers". He compared the idea with Volkswagen leading a hypothetical inquiry into carbon emissions in the car industry after the company’s emissions scandal.

The charity’s internal safeguarding commission would probably report its findings in the next 12 months, Roseveare said, adding that Oxfam was open to "learning more" about how it could strengthen safeguarding.

"We know we have fallen short," he said. "We know that those men who were employed by Oxfam let us down very badly indeed. What women endured at the hands of Oxfam staff was shameful, and we have nothing but disappointment and embarrassment for that."

Lord Bates, minister of state at the Department for International Development, told the APPG that further revelations of sexual misconduct in the aid sector showed that the government’s response to the Oxfam crisis was "the right thing to do" and the government would be seeking assurances from its partners on how they were tackling sexual misconduct in their aid programmes.

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