Over the past few days, the media has talked of sexual misconduct by staff employed by Oxfam Great Britain in Haiti seven years ago, as well as in Chad in 2006. It hurts me, deeply, to hear that a few Oxfam Great Britain staff abused the very people they were sent to help.
What happened in Haiti and clearly in other countries we work in was a few privileged men abusing the very people they were meant to protect – and our processes were too weak to stop them. Oxfam gave them power and they used it against powerless women. They betrayed their trust and the trust of our supporters and of the governments that allow us to come in to respond and support their people.
They also betrayed the trust of hundreds of thousands of Oxfam staff – kind and dedicated women and men. People who wake up every day to put themselves on the front-lines to help save the lives of others. These people represent the Oxfam I believe in – not those men who abused others.
As an Oxfam Trailwalker participant, you’re out on the frontline for us - training, fundraising, and making noise about the important work that we do. I want you to feel fully informed, so you feel reassured in your trust in us, and so that you can be confident as you raise money for our cause. Because, although this is a challenging time for Oxfam, nothing is going to put the brakes on the lifesaving work we’re committed to across the world.
Back in 2011 when this happened, several staff were fired. A few resigned during the investigation, or left the country, leaving Oxfam unable to satisfactorily resolve disciplinary measures. Acting on legal advice at the time, the Oxfam Great Britain Haiti Country Director was allowed to resign as he cooperated transparently with the investigation. Though the media has reported that Oxfam gave positive references to these staff, this did not happen. We have never and will never endorse individuals who are capable of such behaviour.
We always seek to do better and to learn. Oxfam today as a global confederation has grown significantly since 2011, and has put stringent and powerful measures in place to make sure this kind of behaviour never happens again.
Since the Haiti case in 2011 we have introduced a range of measures including a Global Taskforce on Prevention of Sexual Harassment, Exploitation & Abuse that is co-chaired by our Oxfam International Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima.
The Oxfam Great Britain Deputy CEO, Penny Lawrence, has resigned. We respect her decision to take responsibility for incidents that happened on her watch.
Oxfam around the globe is united with you in outrage against the behaviour of these few men. It was then, and is now, unacceptable. We stand with the women and girls who experienced this exploitation. In view of our work advancing women’s rights, especially in situations of vulnerability, it’s imperative that sexual misconduct is stamped out everywhere. Your support is integral.
As an Oxfam Trailwalker participant, one of our most valuable and beloved members of our Oxfam family, I know you’ll be as upset as I am at this news, and I hope you stand with me, fighting all the harder for our values. This kind of event shows just why it’s so important to have champions for justice, and you and I are on the front line fighting.
I wish you well in your training and fundraising (my 50km experience in 2016 means I know how you’re feeling!) and I look forward to meeting you on event weekend.
We understand that you may wish to have more information in response to any questions from both you and those supporting your team. If you have any more questions, please do contact us or you can find more information on our website.
Rachael Le Mesurier
PS While I am still angry at this news, I am also very concerned and worried for our neighbours in the Pacific. Cyclone Gita has swept through Samoa and Tonga. We ask you to stand with us in solidarity as my staff and I work alongside our colleagues in the Pacific assessing what we can do to help. This is what I and my team are here for, and this is what we do well.