In the wake of the scandals which have shook the whole third sector Oxfam has announced a comprehensive plan of action to strengthen safeguarding systems across the organisation and stamp out abuse, including asking leading women’s rights experts to lead an urgent independent review of its culture and practices.
The plan was agreed yesterday by Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima in partnership with Oxfam GB Chief Executive Mark Goldring and directors across the international confederation. The wide-ranging package of measures includes:
- a new independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change, comprised of leading women’s rights experts, which will be able to access Oxfam records and interview staff, partners and communities it supports around the world.
- The immediate creation of a new global database of accredited referees – designed to end the use of forged, dishonest or unreliable references by past or current Oxfam staff. Oxfam will not be issuing any references until this is in place.
- An immediate injection of money and resources into Oxfam’s safeguarding processes, with the number of people working in safeguarding more than doubling over the coming weeks and annual funding more than tripled to £720,000.
- A commitment to improve the culture within Oxfam to ensure that no one faces sexism, discrimination or abuse, that everyone, especially women, feels safe to speak out, and everyone is clear on what behaviour is acceptable or not.
- Oxfam is also committing to publish its 2011 internal investigation into staff involved in sexual and other misconduct in Haiti as soon as possible, after taking steps necessary to prevent witnesses being identified. The names of the men involved have already been shared with the authorities in Haiti.
Winnie Byanyima said: “What happened in Haiti and afterwards is a stain on Oxfam that will shame us for years, and rightly so. In my language: “Okuruga ahamutima gwangye, mutusaasire.” It means “From the bottom of my heart I am asking for forgiveness.”
“Of course words are not enough. I’ve agreed a plan of action with Mark Goldring and Oxfam’s board of international directors. Right now I have two utmost priorities for Oxfam: continuing to provide support to the millions of vulnerable people we work with around the world, and learning vital lessons from our past mistakes to make sure such abuse and exploitation does not happen again. Mark is absolutely the right person to implement these changes in the UK.”
Mark Goldring said: “People put their trust in Oxfam and we betrayed that trust. What happened was a disgrace and we are absolutely committed to rooting out abuse across the organisation. We are doubling the number of people who work on safeguarding to make sure we are living up to our responsibility to protect staff, volunteers and the communities we support around the world. An independent commission is being established which will review our entire operations and tell us what we need to change about our culture and practices.
“It’s vital that we act to prevent those guilty of gross misconduct from simply moving onto another organisation and potentially harming other vulnerable people. Within Oxfam, we’re are urgently setting up a new database of people authorised to give references with an immediate freeze on references until that is in place.
“These problems cannot all be solved by Oxfam alone, and we will work with the government, Charity Commission, women’s rights organisations and others in the sector to implement urgent reforms.”
The High-Level Commission will operate at arms-length from Oxfam and shape its own approach. Names will be announced within a few days. Oxfam will provide the resources it needs to do its job effectively, across the confederation, including full access to records, staff as well as partners and communities supported by the organisation. As part of the Commission’s work, it will create an historical record about cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power that is as complete as possible, which will be made publicly available.