Oxfam's former head of safeguarding raised misconduct concerns

Helen Evans has accused senior staff at the aid charity and the Charity Commission of failing to act on allegations she raised about sexual misconduct

Evans was interviewed by Channel 4
Evans was interviewed by Channel 4

Oxfam's former head of global safeguarding has said that senior staff at the charity and the Charity Commission were both aware of concerns about Oxfam’s safeguarding policies and the alleged underfunding of its safeguarding function.

The latest claims come after allegations of sexual misconduct in the charity’s Haiti and Chad programmes, and claims that the charity failed to provide the full details of either case to the Charity Commission or the government.

Oxfam has since apologised "unreservedly" and announced a range of measures to strengthen its safeguarding policy, but has been threatened with having its UK government funding withdrawn and is the subject of a Charity Commission inquiry.

Helen Evans, former global head of safeguarding at Oxfam between 2012 and 2015, told Channel 4 News last night that she had repeatedly raised concerns with senior staff at the charity about sexual abuse perpetrated by Oxfam employees both overseas and in Oxfam’s UK trading business.

"I became concerned about whether we had the resource in place to tackle the number of allegations we were getting in," Evans said.

Confidential surveys of 120 Oxfam staff across three countries found that between 11 per cent and 14 per cent had witnessed or experienced sexual assault, and 7 per cent of staff in South Sudan had witnessed or experienced rape.

Evans said she had contacted Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, about her concerns regarding sexual abuse occurring among charity employees and a lack of funding for safeguarding, but she said he failed to take appropriate action.

"I felt that our failure to adequately resource was putting people at risk," Evans told Channel 4 News.

Young volunteers in the charity’s UK shops had also been abused, Evans said. "Oxfam were not conducting the criminal record checks that it needed to conduct," she said.

She said this was raised with the commission in 2015 and with the government, and she was told these checks were not required because it concerned the charity’s retail arm.

Evans accused the commission of not wanting to meet or talk with her, and she said the regulator "stopped replying" to her emails.

Speaking on Channel 4 News, Goldring apologised for not acting quickly enough to address her concerns and said that more resources should have been given to the safeguarding team.

An Oxfam statement said: "We regret that we did not act on Helen's concerns much quicker and with more resources."

The charity said it had doubled the number of people in its dedicated safeguarding team to four and was in the process of recruiting two extra staff, among other measures.

The statement said the charity ran training courses in 2014 about sexual harassment in high-risk countries.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said it took Evans’s concerns "very seriously" and raised them with the charity on a formal regulatory basis.

The spokeswoman also addressed Evans’s claims about allegations of rape, sexual exploitation and sexual misconduct by Oxfam employees.

"This implies that Evans raised concerns about specific incidents that had not been appropriately responded to by the charity with us in 2015," the Charity Commission spokeswoman said. "That is not the case.

"After more recent revelations, we met with Evans in 2017 and, based on this, we opened a formal regulatory compliance case with the charity, which has been ongoing since that time. This included the issuing of a formal action plan to the charity and meetings with senior charity officials to ensure they were clear on our expectations and requirements as the regulator."

After the revelations about Oxfam came to light, the European Commission, which provides annual funding of £29m, said it would be contacting the charity to clarify what had happened and would cut funding to any partner organisation that did not live up to the EU’s ethical standards.

Oxfam said in a statement that for every £1 donated, 82p was spent on emergency, development and campaigning work.

The chair of the International Development Select Committee, Stephen Twigg, Labour MP for Liverpool West Derby, said that his committee would hold a public hearing on Oxfam on Tuesday 20 February.

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