In June, Oxfam sent a tweet saying that austerity was forcing more people into poverty, using a spoof film poster of a stormy sea with superimposed text reading: "The Perfect Storm, starring: zero-hour contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment, childcare costs."
Conor Burns, the MP for Bournemouth West, replied to the tweet saying he had written to the commission, "asking them to investigate Oxfam’s highly political advertising".
In an operational compliance report published today, the commission says Oxfam explained that the tweet was part of a campaign trailing a report called Below the Breadline: the Relentless Rise of Food Poverty in Britain, co-authored with two other charities.
The commission’s report says: "Although we accept that the charity had no intention to act in a party political way, we concluded that the charity should have done more to avoid any misperception of political bias by providing greater clarity and ensuring that the link to the Below the Breadline report was more obvious. We appreciate that tweets by nature are short. Nevertheless, consideration must always be given as to how they might be perceived when received in isolation."
It says that Oxfam’s trustees "have recognised the need to review the oversight of their social media work, particularly in the run-up to the election", and have revised the charity’s governance framework for campaigning activities, taking into account the requirements of the lobbying act and the "authorisation procedure for approval of specific campaigns and associated communications".
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said in a statement that he was pleased the commission recognised that the tweet was not party political, and said its new procedures would "reduce the risk of tweets being misconstrued in future".
The commission also looked into an advert and associated social media communications that called for an end of the blockade in Gaza. The report says the commission looked into whether this issue fell within Oxfam’s charitable purposes, and concludes: "We were satisfied it was undertaken in the context of supporting the delivery of Oxfam’s charitable purposes and was within the scope of our Speaking Out: Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities."
The commission’s report concludes that it is essential for trustees to "have clear oversight of the campaigning work of their charities", particularly ahead of elections and referenda.
Burns was not immediately available for comment.