The UK-based charity is expected to hand over all the details of its internal investigation into sexual exploitation, as the British government threatens to withdraw its millions in state aid.

By Joe McDonough


Posted on February 12, 2018

UK-based charity Oxfam faces the prospect of being stripped of its state aid when it meets with the British government this week.

Oxfam’s chair of trustees Caroline Thomson confirmed the meeting with the Department for International Development (DFID) takes place on Monday, and then the Charity Commission, the sector’s watchdog, will summon representatives later in the week.

The threat of what would be a crippling funding cut, comes in the wake of Friday’s explosive revelations of sexual exploitation and abuse.

The Times of London detailed a leaked internal investigation which indicated Oxfam staff had regularly been using prostitutes — possibly minors — in Haiti during the 2011 relief effort after the earthquake.

The probe into the misconduct found a “culture of impunity” among aid workers in Haiti.

At the time, four workers were fired and three were allowed to resign over “gross misconduct”.

The charity apparently opted against reporting it to the Haitian police because it was concerned about the blow-back on the women involved.

Roland van Hauwermeiren, Oxfam’s country director in Haiti was one of the staff members that resigned in 2011 after admitting his involvement.

He was also in charge of the charity’s mission to Chad in 2006, which has also been implicated in the controversy.

According to The Observer, former staff have alleged that a senior member of staff was fired in 2006 due to his behaviour, with one source claiming that aid workers would “invite the women for parties”.

Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt has demanded Oxfam hand over all the information it has compiled through its own investigation or the public funding, which totalled £34 million last year, would be withdrawn.

“If they do not hand over all the information that they have from their investigation… then I cannot work with them any more as an aid delivery partner – and any other organisation in those circumstances,” she told the BBC.

A senior figure told The Guardian — “Last year we got £34m from the UK government and the previous year it was £50m… We are in a challenging funding context with the UK government and then you throw this into the mix and it does create concern.”

In Oxfam’s statement released on Sunday, it said it had been let down by a small number of perpetrators, and that there was a need for a “sector-wide approach to tackle the problem”.

“This was a case of a group of privileged men abusing those they were meant to protect,” Oxfam said.

“They also abused the trust of our supporters and the thousands of dedicated Oxfam staff working around the world to end poverty and injustice.”

Is there widespread abuse in the sector?

While Oxfam’s staff were reportedly disgusted by the details of the abuse when briefed by CEO Mark Goldring on Friday afternoon, many it seems had heard whispers of such behaviour during their travels.

“We’ve all worked with people who’ve worked in Ethiopia, DRC, Haiti, Malawi, Thailand etc who’ve seen similar things across the entire sector,” one Oxfam worker said.

Another implied that staff at other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also engaged in that type of behaviour because of a lack of protective measures.

“I’m really frustrated at the Oxfam-only lens in this – granted what happened was horrific,” said one Oxfam worker abroad. “I’ve worked for [several other NGOs] and there just isn’t any type of policy or procedure in place for any of this stuff.”