Senior UN and World Bank figures to lead Oxfam safeguarding commission

The commission is just one of the measures announced by the charity after the emergence of historical sexual abuse incidents

Oxfam headquarters
Oxfam headquarters

Oxfam has announced that former senior figures from the United Nations and the World Bank will co-lead the independent commission set up to review the charity’s approach to safeguarding.

The commission was originally announced as part of a series of measures to strengthen the charity’s safeguarding policies and practices after stories of historical sexual misconduct in the charity’s Haiti programme emerged last month.

Zainab Bangura, former under-secretary general of the UN, and Katherine Sierra, former vice-president of the World Bank, will co-chair the independent commission, Oxfam said in a statement today.

The charity said both co-chairs had significant experience of safeguarding, with Bangura having served as the special representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Sierra having co-led the World Bank’s global gender-based violence taskforce.

The safeguarding budget at Oxfam had been tripled, the charity said, and new safeguarding staff were being recruited.

Oxfam has also begun operating an external, independent whistleblowing hotline, which it announced last month. It said it had improved how safeguarding cases were recorded internationally.

The charity’s policy on staff references has also been overhauled to help prevent former employees that are dismissed for gross misconduct from working elsewhere in the international development sector.

This comes after criticism of the charity because some of those Oxfam employees dismissed in 2011 in the wake of the incidents in Haiti went on to work for charities elsewhere.

The new measures on references will include a global central point of contact for references and accredited referees in every Oxfam organisation that will be the only staff permitted to hand out references from the charity.

Agreed standards on the content of references would also ensure other employers were aware of cases of gross misconduct, the charity said.

Sierra said the commission was needed to evaluate Oxfam’s safeguarding policies and to "ensure that any incidents that do occur are responded to appropriately, including in terms of the support provided to victims and survivors".

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: "Preventing and tackling sexual abuse is as important to me as saving lives when disasters hit. We’ve got better at it since 2011, but we know there’s a lot more we can and must do – the commission will help us do that.

"Any employee found guilty of gross misconduct will find it much harder to hold a similar position in the future. The additional resources and external whistleblowing line will make it easier for allegations to be reported and acted upon swiftly."

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