'This happened on my watch': Oxfam sex scandal prompts U.K. deputy chief's resignation

Oxfam Great Britain's deputy chief executive has resigned, saying she takes "full responsibility" for failing to act immediately in the sexual misconduct scandal involving the charity's workers in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.

Penny Lawrence says she takes responsibility for not acting sooner on 2010 Haiti earthquake scandal

Senior leaders of Oxfam are dealing with a scandal following allegations of sexual misconduct involving staff who hired prostitutes in Haiti. Ahead of a meeting with U.K. government officials to discuss the scandal, the global charity group announced it would strengthen its staff vetting procedures and introduce a new whistleblower helpline as part of a package of reforms 2:16

Oxfam Great Britain's deputy chief executive resigned Monday, saying she took "full responsibility" for failing to act immediately in the sexual misconduct scandal involving the charity's workers in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. 

Penny Lawrence, Oxfam GB program director at the time, said she was "ashamed that this happened on my watch."

At an emergency meeting Monday with British government officials, Oxfam leaders "also made a full and unqualified apology" and spoke of a "deep sense of disgrace and shame," said British Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

Oxfam GB chief executive Mark Goldring and trustee chair Caroline Thomson were at the meeting. Mordaunt had threatened to pull public funding from Oxfam unless the charity revealed everything it knows about the Haiti allegations.

Oxfam GB is an independent organization, affiliated with Oxfam International, a global confederation of 20 independent Oxfams (including Oxfam Canada and Oxfam-Québec) that share a strategic plan.

4 fired, 3 resigned

It's unclear whether Lawrence's resignation will quell the scandal, which first emerged when the Times of London reported last week that seven former Oxfam staff members who worked in Haiti faced misconduct allegations that included using prostitutes and downloading pornography.

Oxfam said it investigated the allegations in 2011 and then fired four people and let three others resign after uncovering sexual misconduct, bullying, intimidation and failure to protect staff.

Lawrence said Monday the allegations of sexual misconduct were first raised about some Oxfam staff in an earlier mission in Chad.

"It is now clear that these allegations — involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the country director and members of his team in Chad — were raised before he moved to Haiti," she said.

'Utterly despicable'

Mordaunt said the charity had agreed to provide full details about the perpetrators to their home countries so they can face possible prosecution.

"I told Oxfam they must now demonstrate the moral leadership necessary to address this scandal, rebuild the trust of the British public, their staff and the people they aim to help," she said, describing the sexual abuses as "utterly despicable."

Mordaunt said she had written to all U.K. charities that work overseas to demand they do more to protect vulnerable people from abuse.

Earlier Monday, the European Commission demanded that Oxfam offer maximum transparency in responding to the allegations. 

"We are ready to review and, if needed, cease funding to any partner who is not living up to the required high ethical standards," said European Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic.


  • Earlier versions of this article did not specify that Penny Lawrence and Mark Goldring are, respectively, deputy chief executive and chief executive officer with Oxfam Great Britain, not Oxfam International.
    Feb 12, 2018 9:18 PM ET