Oxfam criticized by U.K. regulator over Haiti sexual misconduct scandal
Charity's 'internal culture tolerated poor behaviour,' watchdog's report says
British charity Oxfam failed in its response to allegations of sexual abuse by aid workers in Haiti, tolerated poor behaviour and broke promises to meet safeguarding standards, a report by the U.K. charities' regulator said on Tuesday.
Oxfam GB (Great Britain) said it accepted the findings of the Charity Commission and was implementing its recommendations.
Oxfam, one of Britain's biggest charities, was thrown into crisis last year when it was reported that some former staff in Haiti paid for sex while on a mission to help those affected by a 2010 earthquake.
The charity subsequently apologized, but the scandal prompted Britain to suspend funding to Oxfam.
The report found it did not do enough to establish whether the victims of sexual misconduct in Haiti were minors, did not report the allegations and treated senior staff more leniently than junior staff.
"No charity is so large, nor is its mission so important, that it can afford to put its own reputation ahead of the dignity and wellbeing of those it exists to protect," commission chair Tina Stowell said.
The Times of London first reported misconduct allegations against seven former Oxfam GB staff in Haiti, including the use of prostitutes — some of whom may have been under 18 — and downloading pornography. The commission said Oxfam GB's investigation into the charges was hampered by a "determination to keep it out of the public eye."
Oxfam says it investigated the allegations in 2011. The charity confirmed it had dismissed four people and allowed three others to resign in the case after an investigation uncovered offences including sexual misconduct, bullying, intimidation and failure to protect staff.
While the regulator's report found no evidence of a coverup, it said that the charity's promises on safeguarding had not always been backed up with action.
"What went wrong in Haiti did not happen in isolation," said Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission. "Our inquiry demonstrates that, over a period of years, Oxfam's internal culture tolerated poor behaviour and at times lost sight of the values it stands for.
"Significant further cultural and systemic change is required to address the failings and weaknesses our report identifies."
The regulator issued Oxfam GB with an official warning and the charity must now set out a plan of action to improve its standards and implement the report's recommendations.
Oxfam GB said it accepted it should have improved its safeguarding practices and reduce the risk of sexual abuse occurring. The charity has appointed a new director of safeguarding and tripled its investment in the area.
"What happened in Haiti was shameful, and we are deeply sorry. It was a terrible abuse of power and an affront to the values that Oxfam holds dear," Caroline Thomson, chair of trustees at Oxfam GB, said in a statement
"But I am confident that Oxfam GB is changing, and that the steps we are taking are putting Oxfam on the right path for the future."
With files from The Associated Press