LONDON – In 2011, several Oxfam staff were accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in Haiti during the earthquake response. We have now heard of further allegations about the use of sex workers by Oxfam staff in Chad in 2006. We are shocked and dismayed about these latest revelations. While we can’t corroborate the information from Chad at the moment, it highlights again unacceptable behavior by a small number of people and the need for a sector-wide approach to tackle the problem.
Let us be clear: their behavior was and still is totally unacceptable – an appalling mark against the high values we set for ourselves at Oxfam. This was a case of a group of privileged men abusing those they were meant to protect. They also abused the trust of our supporters and the thousands of dedicated Oxfam staff working around the world to end poverty and injustice.
Oxfam’s priority is to stand with the women and girls who experienced this exploitation, and to ensure that sexual misconduct is rooted out of our organization. Our work advancing women’s rights, especially in situations of vulnerability, is central to Oxfam’s values. As an organization fighting for women’s rights around the world, we have a special responsibility to protect the people we work with, our volunteers, partners and staff from sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse.
Oxfam’s investigation of the Haiti case resulted in the creation of a dedicated Safeguarding Team, a confidential whistleblowing line and more comprehensive policies. These measures help Oxfam better protect people from abuse, sexual harassment and exploitation, and prevent it from happening in the first place. Our response in 2011 clearly did not meet the standards that we have today and we are working hard on corroborating the information from Chad. While we have since made many changes, it is clear we still have not done enough to change our own culture and to create the strongest possible policies to protect people we work with globally. We are doing that now. But we must do much more and act with greater urgency.
As members of this organization, we are absolutely committed to our work and Oxfam’s values. We are deeply hurt by these abuses and are committed to real change in the way we handle cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse and to how we support survivors.
We are committed to changing our culture and Oxfam has been doing so to ensure more gender balance in leadership roles. Of the 22 Executive Directors in the Oxfam confederation, women hold 15 of these positions. This move is also reflected in our regional leadership roles. Oxfam International Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, is leading on our work on the protection against sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse. Oxfam is committed to working with government to weed out exploitation in the aid sector and is now calling for a sector-wide approach.
We hope we can rebuild the trust of our supporters who know, as we do, that the actions of a few do not represent all that Oxfam stands for.