Regulator to release Oxfam GB report later today

The Charity Commission began an inquiry into the aid charity in February last year after The Times broke news of the safeguarding scandal

The Charity Commission is due to release the report of its statutory inquiry into Oxfam GB and the safeguarding scandal today.

The commission launched the inquiry in February 2018 after The Times newspaper ran a story revealing that three employees, including the charity’s Haiti country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned and four were sacked for gross misconduct in 2011 over allegations of sexual exploitation, bullying and intimidation, and the downloading of pornography.

Among the allegations, there were accusations that Oxfam employees in Haiti had employed local women who had been affected by the 2010 earthquake as sex workers.

Oxfam had reported the allegations to the Charity Commission at the time, but had failed to make clear the extent of the sexual misconduct, or that it involved people who could be considered beneficiaries of the charity.

The report is due to be published at 1pm today.

When the inquiry was launched, the commission said it had concerns that Oxfam might not have "fully and frankly disclosed material details" about the allegations in 2011 and that it had questions about the charity’s handling of the incident since then.

The regulator later revealed that the inquiry would include an independent review, overseen by a barrister, of the charity’s safeguarding practices.

Sarah Clune, an associate on the charity and social enterprise team at the legal firm Stone King, warned that the Charity Commission could consider using its statutory powers, conferred by the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016, to disqualify the trustees who were in place at the time of the incident, or current trustees. 

She said this would reflect the commission’s current strategy, which "has the message that charities must go beyond simply being organisations with worthy aims to being a living example of charitable purpose, attitude and behaviour".

Clune said: "When charities fail to meet these standards, they are keen to exercise their new regulatory powers.

"The consequences of poor handling of allegations and a lack of transparency has led to beneficiaries and other people coming into contact with the charity (including its employees and workers) being put at risk of abuse and therefore the trustees have not complied with their legal duties."

However the commission decided to deal with people who had been trustees of Oxfam at various points during the past eight years, she said, "there will no doubt be significant learning points for the aid sector and more widely".

Although the make-up of the charity’s trustee board and senior leadership team has changed since the incident in Haiti, and Dame Barbara Stocking, who was chief executive in 2011, had stepped down in 2012, some of those who were in post when the scandal was made public have also left the organisation as a result of the scandal.

The charity’s deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, who was programme director in Haiti in 2011, resigned three days after The Times story was published, and Mark Goldring, who became chief executive in 2013, announced plans to leave the charity three months after he faced criticism for his response to the scandal in an interview with The Guardian newspaper.

The public outcry after the story broke has had a significant impact on the charity’s reputation and income. It lost 7,000 regular donors in the first 10 days after the news, and in June it emerged that charity needed to make savings of £16m and about 100 redundancies in the UK as a result of the scandal.

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