It’s been a turbulent few weeks for charities worldwide with some truly horrifying reports being made into the actions of several large and respected charities such as Oxfam, Save the Children and even the UN. Reports include the widespread use of sex workers, and the trade of sex for aid.
We, quite rightly, hold our charities to higher standards than most businesses, and we wouldn’t tolerate this from anyone so it seems even more shocking when it involves charities. I think this proves there needs to be a fundamental shift in how many charities, not only conduct themselves but also in how they react to it. In many ways the biggest shock for me wasn’t in how people acted in regards to Oxfam, in any big organisation there are people who do not follow through on the ethos espoused by the organisation, an d whilst Oxfam shares some of the blame for not vetting these employees correctly, this kind of thing will always happen. The biggest disappointment was in their reaction. It was in the internal cover-ups and the failure to acts when this was originally pointed out to them. In many ways how you react to the crisis is as telling as what leads you there in the first place and in this case Oxfam fell short on pretty much every level.
The danger with the failings of people like Oxfam and Save the Children falling so short is the narrative it feeds, the narrative that you can’t trust big charities, or that all the money goes to heads of the charities, that charity is not a good thing and to me that is one of the biggest dangers with this. I spoke previously, before this all broke with Oxfam, about how some people were starting to politicise attacks on the charity and how they were beginning to attack it that way, and now they have given those people further ammunition. I want to support you all, I believe, generally, in the work you do and I believe you are incredibly important, but right now you’re not making it easy.
You cannot be taking advantage of those you are there to help, and then you cannot be denying it and covering it up, you know theer are problems that must be addressed and you have to address them. You must be held to higher standards and you must adhere to them or there seems little point. The idea that any charity would cover up sexual exploitation, that they would tacitly allow it by not acting enough on it is horrendous and wrong on every front.
Maybe it’s because of my PR and Comms background that I have an understanding that no entity will ever get it right. They will employ the wrong people, or people will make mistakes, in organisations as huge and far reaching as Oxfam this is bound to happen but what is important is how they deal with that and that is, where the charities have fallen short on every level, missed opportunities, cover ups, and in some cases outright lying. I believe in the importance of charity organisations like Oxfam or save the Children, but if you want our money then you have to be perceived as trying to do the right thing, even when you get some of it wrong you must be seen to be trying to fix it, this is where they have got it woefully wrong in trying to hide the truth.
There are many out there looking for reasons to distrust charities, and so many charities, it seems, have given them one, it’s not even just in the scandals on the ground, in the front line which are bad enough but more in the decisions made laterally in the comfortable head offices. Come on, do better, you can come back from this but things must change, there has to be fundamental changes in how youw ork, how you report and what you do to make sure this can never happen again.