In February 2018, the British newspaper The Times reported on a case of sexual misconduct by Oxfam GB aid workers in Haiti that occurred during its aid operation following the 2010 earthquake. In response, Oxfam apologized for what had taken place and acknowledged its failure to put in place the right steps, processes and culture to protect the people it was created to serve and its own staff and volunteers.
On the 16th of February, we agreed on a 10-Point Action Plan to strengthen Oxfam’s safeguarding policies and practices and to transform our organizational culture, and committed to report publicly on our progress every three months.
Oxfam welcomes the final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change. Oxfam set up the Independent Commission in February 2018 and gave it a full mandate – independently and publicly – to investigate our work and highlight what more Oxfam needed to do in transforming our culture and improving our safeguarding systems, in order to ensure that the people we work with, our partners and all our staff are safer from all forms of bad and abusive behaviours.
This report follows the publication of the UK Charity Commission’s regulatory investigation specifically into Oxfam Great Britain. Please see our fuller response in thanking the Independent Commission for its work, including how Oxfam is accepting its recommendations in full, and for what Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said is a tremendously valuable tool that will assist us in learning and continuing our deep, on-going improvements in this area.
An urgent, comprehensive and accountable response
After the scandal that exposed the appalling behavior of some Oxfam staff in Haiti in 2011, we knew we had to learn, to address our own failings and to change. We made critical mistakes, failing to properly prevent and investigate sexual misconduct by our staff.
From 2011, we began to make improvements to our safeguarding practices. We introduced a range of measures to prevent sexual abuse and misconduct from happening in the first place and to improve how allegations are handled, including the establishment in October 2017 of a Global Safeguarding Taskforce to lead on structural change across Oxfam. But we regret we did not go far enough and fast enough.
In February 2018 we took collective responsibility and action in making wide-ranging improvements across our confederation, to bring about the necessary changes to our policies, practices and culture:
- We agreed on a Ten-Point Action Plan to transform and strengthen our safeguarding policies, practices and our working culture;
- As part of this plan, we appointed an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, led by women’s rights and human rights leaders, to interrogate all aspects of Oxfam culture and safeguarding work, past and present.
The 10-Point Plan
Responding to the Ten-Point Plan, our leadership teams at headquarter, country and regional levels acted promptly and decisively to implement the real and deep change needed to safeguard and protect the people we work with and ensure a zero tolerance approach to all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.
You can follow this page to track our progress against the plan.
Download the reports of the progress we have made implementing our 10-point action plan.
10-point action plan progress
report 4, May 2019 (summary)
10-point action plan progress
report 4, May 2019 (full report)
10-point action plan progress
report 3, January 2019
What we have done so far:
1. An Independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change
Oxfam cannot exonerate itself from the charges made against it and will not try. We will establish a High-Level Commission to operate at arms-length from Oxfam, comprised of senior leaders from across the world. Its Independent CoChairs will determine the scope of its own inquiry in consultation with the Board of Oxfam International. It will have full powers to investigate past and present cases, policies, practices, and culture. It will listen to criticisms and allegations, particularly in relation to the abuse of power and sexual misconduct. It will endeavor to create a comprehensive historical record which will be made publicly available. Oxfam will be guided by whatever recommendations the Commission makes.
2. Reiterated commitment to collaborate with all relevant authorities
We will redouble efforts to show transparency and full cooperation with relevant authorities in any way that can achieve justice for survivors and help to prevent any instance of abuse in the future. This includes proactively reaching out to regulators and governments in countries where we operate to offer to share any information they need or may wish to see. Our aim is to ensure authorities can again feel confident in our policies and processes, with a demonstrable commitment to transparency whilst protecting the safety and confidentiality of survivors.
- In Ghana, we updated the Ghana’s Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and now have access to their Child Abuse Registry and in Nigeria we reported into the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, which is also responsible for the oversight of INGO activities.
- In Australia Oxfam has been ratified fully compliant with donor requirements of the Department for Foreign Affairs.
- In Germany, Oxfam has aligned its rules on case reporting with the Federal Foreign Office.
- In Hong Kong, Oxfam liaised with the government’s Disaster Relief Fund Advisory Committee and donors including Ford Foundation China and Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation.
- In Quebec, Oxfam continues as a member of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation Steering Committee to prevent sexual misconduct and is seeking funding for a project to improve policy and practice across the NGO sector.
- In the Netherlands, Oxfam shared the Independent Commission’s findings with institutional donors and Dutch Parliamentarians, prompting one MP in a parliamentary debate to be “very impressed” with Oxfam’s measures and its “focus on cultural change”.
3. Re-examine past cases and encourage other witnesses or survivors to come forward
We owe it to anyone who may have been affected by the misconduct of Oxfam staff to look back at previous cases and re-examine whether they were dealt with appropriately. If they were not then, insofar as is possible, we will take new action in line with Oxfam’s values. This may lead to some current staff facing disciplinary action and possibly losing their jobs. We will continue to communicate to staff, volunteers, partners and beneficiaries that it is safe and indeed actively encouraged to report any instances that they experienced or witnessed that they have previously felt unable to report or were not adequately dealt with at the time. We will ensure an effective whistle-blower system that can be easily and safely utilized by staff, volunteers and people external to Oxfam. More resources will be made available for this as needed.
4. Increase our investment in safeguarding
The Oxfam confederation will significantly increase investment both in budget and staffing to ensure we have appropriate resources to ensure the safety and well-being of all people who come into contact with Oxfam staff. We will also increase our investment in gender training, including recruitment of more staff who will lead our work on gender equality and empowerment in programs and humanitarian response teams.
5. Strengthen internal processes
We will improve our internal processes including to ensure that official Oxfam references are never given to offenders seeking jobs elsewhere. We will strengthen the vetting and recruitment of staff including to make safeguarding a mandatory part of the recruitment and selection process and in performance management criteria. We will make safeguarding training mandatory for all staff. We will strengthen whistle-blowing process to ensure it is safe and easy for people to use. All Oxfam affiliates will have trained safeguarding focal points, including at all major Oxfam-organized events. We will ensure our systems are reliable in order to report any suspected illegal activity to the relevant authorities.
6. Re-enforce a culture of zero tolerance towards harassment, abuse or exploitation
We will change the culture that enabled harassment, exploitation, discrimination and abuse to exist within Oxfam and help to lead this change throughout the sector. We will work with agencies to support Oxfam’s cultural shift. We will set up a Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Taskforce to make recommendations that we will act upon with urgency.
7. Work with our peers across the sector to tackle physical, sexual and emotional abuse
We will work with the rest of our sector to ensure people are safe, recognizing there are actions we cannot take on our own. This includes how to ensure that offenders who have lost their job with one organization cannot move on to another. We will work with UN bodies, the International Civil Society Center and other joint NGO platforms to agree on proposals for sector-wide improvement. We will contribute to the work initiated by BOND in the UK for a humanitarian passport and/or anti-offenders’ system housed by an accountable agency such as UN OCHA.
8. Active engagement with partners and allies, especially women’s rights organizations
We will reach out to partners and allies to rebuild trust including from their input on how we can learn and improve. We will reach out to women’s rights organizations and others who work on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) issues, to answer their questions, hear their reflections and concerns, and ensure our responses are defined in consultation with them.
We will listen and learn from feedback from supporters around the world. We will ensure two-way communication with them, responding to the concerns they raise and explaining the actions we are taken to learn and change.
- In Sierra Leone, for instance, we participate regularly in public debates, to explain the actions that we are taking to strengthen our safeguarding policies and practice.
- In Burkina Faso, we joined rural women and female parliamentarians in a national forum on women's empowerment.
- In Chad, the Minister of Women encouraged Oxfam to maintain its promising approach as a driver to overcome safeguarding issues.
- In Colombia, our Country Director met with more than 70 partners, donors and allies and, together with Oxfam’s Regional Director for Latin America, with feminist partners to discuss the measures that Oxfam is doing to improve its safeguarding culture.
- In Rwanda, as in many countries, Oxfam uses Twitter and Facebook to spark debate and encourage positive public attitudes and beliefs. In January, members of the Scottish Government visited Oxfam in Rwanda to meet anti-GBV champions to exchange ideas and gain insight into the issue at a community level.
- In Uganda, Oxfam supported a broadcasting initiative called the People’s Parliament where topical humanitarian issues are debated and live streamed. This has prompted a wide range of stakeholders – for instance from local government, civil society and women’s rights organizations, refugees, teachers and students – to debate the issue of violence against women and girls.
10. Recommit and strengthen our focus on gender justice externally
We reiterate and reinforce our commitment to putting women’s rights and gender justice at the center of our work. Recognizing we have a lot to learn and put right as an organization, Oxfam will continue to build investment in advocacy, campaigns and programming focused on tackling the injustices women living in poverty face around the world. This includes addressing social norms that cause violence against women, campaigning to rectify systematic power imbalances that trap women into poverty, and partnering with feminist and women’s rights organizations to address gender injustice at all levels. It includes strengthening and focusing our development and humanitarian programs to deliver transformational change in the lives of women living in poverty.
Safeguarding data from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019
Cases reported294 cases were reported during this period. 221 were closed, and 73 have been carried forward as open cases into the new financial year. The volume of cases reported has risen significantly compared to last year, which we consider to be a positive development that reflects an improvement in our systems and that people (particularly staff) are increasingly understanding their rights and know where and how to report. We would expect case numbers to continue to rise and that a greater proportion would come from partners and community members as their understanding of their rights, how to report and trust that Oxfam will follow up appropriately, grows over time.
Closed casesClosed cases are those where an allegation has been reviewed, investigated where necessary and/or an outcome reached and acted upon, including where the case was not upheld or did not proceed because a survivor did not want to continue. Between 1st April 2018 and 31st March 2019, Oxfam closed 221 safeguarding cases globally. 61 of these were cases resolved for the current year, and the balance of 160 were historical cases which had been brought forward and closed within the year.
The closed caseload consisted of:
- 23 cases of sexual abuse;
- 25 cases of exploitation (including actions such as paying for sex);
- 74 cases of sexual harassment;
- 98 cases of other internal reportable issues (such as bullying, other inappropriate conduct; sexual or romantic relationship against the code of conduct and conflict of interest policy for instance, in the line of management, with partner staff, or otherwise leading to conflicts of interest; non-sexual child abuse such as physical, emotional, neglect, or other non-sexual harm to an under 18);
- 1 case where information was not provided.
- 48 Adults (7 Beneficiaries; 4 community members; 1 Vulnerable Adult; 20 non-beneficiaries; 13 volunteers; 3 vulnerable volunteers)
- 17 Children (3 beneficiaries; 3 community members; 2 non-beneficiaries; 9 volunteers)
- 14 Non-Staff (2 Contractors/consultants; 12 partner staff)
- 117 Non managerial staff
- 12 managerial staff
- 13 Not known
- 2 were beneficiaries
- 5 were community members
- 24 were volunteers
- 17 were non-staff (including contractors and consultants)
- 12 were partner staff
- 100 were non-managerial staff
- 51 were managerial staff
- 10 cases were not determined
- 79 cases involving disciplinary action, including 43 dismissals
- 45 cases: non-disciplinary action e.g. training on safeguarding and code of conduct
- 58 cases: insufficient evidence and the allegation was not upheld
- 10 cases: resignation of the respondents (person against whom the allegations were made) (2 prior to allegation being raised and 8 after)
- 7 cases: No information available
- 1 case: was later identified as not related to safeguarding.