Oxfam objects now include promotion of human rights

Development charity changes governing document in light of modern charity legislation

Oxfam has widened its charitable objects to take in the promotion of human rights as well as the prevention and relief of poverty.
Its governing document now includes a commitment to sustainable development, diversity and equality and human rights.

The change comes after a review of the charity's constitution that was prompted by the Charities Act 2006 and the Companies Act 2006.

The Charities Act introduced a new list of 13 charitable purposes, including the prevention or relief of poverty and the advancement of human rights.

Last year the Charity Commission held a consultation on the definition of ‘the relief and prevention of poverty'. Oxfam felt the commission's interpretation was too limited to describe all the organisation's work, according to Joss Saunders, Oxfam's head of charitable objects.

He said the charity feared poverty was to be interpreted as financial inequality only. "We felt that there was a risk that the way poverty was being interpreted would not meet the needs of the people in poverty," he said.

Saunders said the change to the governing document to include human rights confirmed the rights-based approach Oxfam has taken to its work since the late 1990s.

Other development charities adopt different approaches to the issue. A spokeswoman for ActionAid said its objects - the relief of poverty and distress and the education of the public concerning the alleviation of such poverty and distress - had not changed since 2005.

But the charity's objects also allowed the trustees to determine other ancillary charitable purposes "in relation to the objects to act with fairness, tolerance and respect for the inherent value of all human individuals", the spokeswoman said.

"We regularly review our objects, and we applaud other charities for doing the same," she added. "A charity's philosophy will inevitably develop and it's important for transparency and accountability that any changes are reflected in their articles of association."

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