Update to Oxfam statement on the Independent Commission report

UPDATE 28 JUNE 2019: 

 

Since the publication of the Independent Commission’s report and issuing of this press release, Oxfam’s safeguarding team has conducted a review of background documents which had been passed to us during the final part of the Commission’s work. 

 

This background material, which included testimony from confidential and anonymised focus groups conducted by Proteknon researchers for the Commission, has raised potential safeguarding issues of direct concern to Oxfam which we will now investigate. This is in addition to our continuing response to broader concerns arising from the Commission’s work, which it had raised directly with us at an earlier stage of its work. 

 

We were extremely concerned to learn of this new information and are in contact with former members and staff of the IC to establish more detail. We will provide full support to anyone who wishes to make a formal complaint, and will do all we can to help identify any alleged perpetrators and hold them to account. We will also offer support to survivors who come forward.

 

Where there is evidence of an offence, we will, with the consent of the survivor, refer evidence to the appropriate authorities. The UK Charity Commission and relevant donors have been notified and we will keep them updated. 

 

Oxfam is committed to tackling abuse and we are grateful to anyone with the courage to come forward. 

 

We update once every six months on the outcome of completed cases as part of our safeguarding 10-point plan update. 


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STATEMENT 12 JUNE 2019

Oxfam welcomes the final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change.  

 

“This is exactly the report we asked for following incidents of sexual misconduct in Haiti that came to light last year”, said Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. “We set up the Independent Commission to tell us hard truths about our organisation, and to be clear about where and how we can improve. Oxfam accepts the report’s findings and we welcome its recommendations.” 

 

The report points to significant weaknesses in Oxfam’s reporting mechanisms, as well as safeguarding process failures and accountability gaps. While recognizing that they are not universal, the Commission also pointed to serious staff issues including a work culture that in some contexts can be unsupportive and even toxic. They also note that the complexity of the organization may be hampering Oxfam’s ability to comprehensively address the safeguarding and organizational culture challenges.  

 

“As an African woman, I encounter both sexism and racism in many places I go. I am pained and angered that some colleagues have done so within our organisation. We are forcefully challenging such unacceptable behaviors. I am determined to ensure that Oxfam’s internal culture lives up to the values we espouse in our work around the world,” said Winnie Byanyima.

 

At the same time, the Commission recognizes the progress that has been made by Oxfam to strengthen its approach to safeguarding and the organisation’s “tremendous will, energy, and commitment to reform.” Since February 2018, the Commission notes that Oxfam has taken important steps, including but not limited to new confederation wide prevention of sexual misconduct and child protection policies, standard operating procedures for reporting misconduct and a single Oxfam-wide safeguarding network. The report notes that Oxfam also recently developed its first survivor supporter guidelines and is working together with partners to build their capacity to address and prevent misconduct. In addition, Oxfam has strengthened its annual performance review approach to ensure that all staff support our values, our code of conduct and our leadership expectations. These changes form part of the improvements that Oxfam has been making under its “Ten Point Action Plan” to transform its working culture and strengthen its global safeguarding systems 

 

Winnie Byanyima said: “I thank the Commission for recognising and valuing the important changes we have already made. They have rightly said we must now be courageous in delivering further reform. I could not agree more. I want to humbly apologize to all of the staff and community members who have been harmed by Oxfam, its people; its leaders; its culture. We are moving quickly in changing our workplace culture and will continue to implement all of the recommendations of the Commission.” 

 

Oxfam is seeing an increase in the reporting of safeguarding cases as people become more aware and trusting of its new systems. Last year it closed out 43 cases that involved the dismissal of staff for safeguarding issues. “We will act on every case coming to our attention and take action against abuse wherever it occurs,” Byanyima said.

 

Additional actions that Oxfam is planning include:     

  • Mobilizing a new €550,000 "Global Integrity Fund" to help strengthen safeguarding work of local civil society organizations; 
  • Boosting its own safeguarding capacity and resources in the most fragile and challenging environments in which it operates;
  • Establishing two new global senior leadership roles of Chief Ethics Officer, and Culture Lead 

The report described Oxfam’s 10,000 worldwide staff as its “greatest asset” and noted that they are “eager to contribute to building a safer Oxfam.” 

 

“I am constantly humbled by the sheer dedication of my colleagues, whose tireless work to combat global poverty and inequality is recognised in the report,” Byanyima said. “As the Commission says, our staff are passionate about and loyal to Oxfam’s values - they want to see Oxfam change and grow. We owe it to them to deliver, and they should be part of this process.” 

 

The Commission also referenced its research into local communities’ experiences in three countries where multiple international and local agencies were working on major humanitarian responses.  Where the Commission could identify information about a specific agency or individual, it was able to alert that agency to investigate. The Commission presented no new or specific allegations of sexual abuse against Oxfam staff from this research.  

 

Nevertheless, Oxfam says that the levels of sexual abuse and exploitation of local people the Commission describes from this part of its research were shocking and deeply unacceptable. 

 

Byanyima said that “while the Commission did not refer any specific new allegations of sexual abuse to Oxfam about our staff, that doesn’t lessen our concern or our duty to act”. She said that Oxfam abhors the sexual abuse of vulnerable local people and that “tragically we have not done enough in the past to ensure that the communities we work with are protected and able to live their lives with dignity. The IC has urged our sector to redouble its commitment in this area, and we are ready to play our part.”

 

The Commission concludes that while there is work to do Oxfam has the potential to support the transformation of the wider sector, based on the fact that Oxfam “recognises and commits publicly to change; is transparent in its work to address sexual misconduct; is investing in policies and tools to tackle these issues across the entire confederation; [and] has dedicated staff with a strong desire for change who want to build long-lasting partnerships in communities.”

 

Winnie Byanyima said: “The Commission says that Oxfam has taken an important step in being publicly committed to change and transparent in its work. I’m heartened that it says we have the potential to become a voice of leadership in wider sector reform. But it has given a strong warning that we should not under-estimate the task ahead of us – and I can assure everyone, we absolutely do not.”  

Notes to editors

Oxfam set up the Independent Commission in Feb 2018 and gave it a full mandate – independently and publicly – to investigate its work and highlight what more Oxfam needed to do. The Commission was joined by eminent human rights leaders, including a former Women’s Minister in Haiti and a global expert on Sexual Violence in Conflict

 

Oxfam's Ten-Point Plan outlines how Oxfam is working to transform its working culture and improve its collective systems of safeguarding policies and practices.  

Contact information

Matt Grainger, matt.grainger@oxfam.org, +44(0)7730680837 

 

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.