The Future is Equal


Rohingya Refugees: working for peace, longing for home

Rohingya Refugee Anniversary

Two years on

There are close to a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh – more than 700,000 arrived following the violence of 25 August 2017. Some have been there since the 1990s. Overcrowding and poor infrastructure leaves people exposed to diseases, especially during monsoon season, and lack of legal status prevents refugees from working, studying, getting specialist medical help, or reporting crimes. Oxfam’s Senior Communications Officer in Cox’s Bazar, Mutasim Billah, explains that a ban on refugees working and the lack of education in the camps has left many refugees feeling as though they are treading water.

Two years is a long time for lives to be left on hold, and for many Rohingya this has been the case for even longer.

Though not without worries, some Rohingya refugees in the camps of Cox’s Bazar prefer sometimes to focus on the brighter side, to share examples of how they can help themselves and their communities. They were proud to tell us how they were managing, just getting on with life.

Neighbours in a crowded community

Down a crowded path between the camp shelters, Layla, 30, is a Rohingya woman who has become something of a local hero for coming up with a simple solution to an everyday problem in her neighbourhood. As it starts to rain, we huddle together by her front door in plastic chairs carried over by neighbours, under a cleverly woven awning made of palm fronds and empty rice sacks. I could have reached across the path with arms outstretched and touched both Layla’s front door and that of her opposite neighbour across the path.

Gesturing out the front door, my colleague pointed to the host community village at the end of the lane, not 10 meters from this dense grouping of camp shelters. Layla explained, “When we first arrived here, we did not have a good relationship with our neighbours from the host community. Every day there were quarrels! For us the biggest issue was water. We want water, the host community wants water.  Everyone would just go to the taps with as many bottles as they could carry and collect as much as they could.”

Water is scarce – so how to keep the peace?

“I didn’t want to see the women quarreling at the taps, so I suggested a system. At our water tap, each Rohingya family can take two pitchers of water first. Then, the host community can come and take whatever they need. If there is a bit more water, the Rohingya can come take another pitcher. I fill the containers myself for the families to come and collect.

“I manage it this way to keep the peace in the community. Sometimes people come and thank me, and I feel good. We are managing here like this!

“Neither of us is perfect, but we are very thankful to the local people for letting us stay here. We can be respectful of each other’s values and culture while we are here.

“But if you ask us, we all say we want our citizenship, our nationality. We want to go home.”

The changing role for men

We also spoke to Kabir, who belongs to one of Oxfam’s men’s gender group which meet to talk about changing gender roles, gender-based violence and the specific challenges men face living in the camps and how to cope. Oxfam has 25 men’s groups serving about 500 men across seven camps.

Kabir told us, “There was so much we didn’t know. We learned about our responsibility to our society, our home, and our women. Women work very hard at home!

“Most of the time we forget to acknowledge that. When we were in our own country, no one ever told us to try to understand women’s contributions. Every home had conflicts. Now that we understand this, we don’t have conflict anymore – I don’t fight with my wife.”

Providing personal fulfilment

These men’s groups are not only critical for addressing long term challenges around transforming gender roles in the camps, they also give men like Kabir a place to vent frustrations and build confidence.

He says, “I only had one year of school, I am definitely not an educated person. In the group, I learned to write my name. It feels good writing your own name! Maybe as an educated person, you wouldn’t understand, but this is a really fulfilling experience for me.”

Longing for home

Refugees like Layla and Kabir work hard to find ways to cope, but in many ways, their lives are in limbo.

“Now we are safe. We got a lot of support from the people living in this village. They helped us when there was no one. They provided many things,” says Kabir with deep gratitude.

“But in the future, I just want to go home. The camp is not a good place to live for your whole life. Here we are living on support. Mentally no one is happy as all of us want to go back. But for that, we need our nationality. It is our security. Without having that, we cannot go back.”

Oxfam is providing vital aid including clean water and food to Rohingya refugees. So far, we’ve helped more than a quarter of a million (266,000) people in Bangladesh and we provide ongoing humanitarian assistance to 100,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims confined to camps in Myanmar.

Daring to hope for a better future: a 2040 film review


Local solutions to global challenges.

Turn on the news on any given day, and chances are you’ll be bombarded with a stream of stories from around the world ranging from the bleak to the downright terrifying. The documentary 2040 gives us an alternative view – one where, if we play our cards right, we could dare to imagine a different future.

Through a visual letter to his young daughter, director Damon Gameau skilfully illuminates a hopeful world two decades into the future that has successfully adapted to the challenges posed by climate breakdown.

Gameau plays with the idea of innocence; relating his four-year-old daughter’s expanding world – as she grows up and her safe bubble is pierced by outside influences – to our reluctance to leave the blissful ignorance of climate inaction. As he says, it is time to leave the bubble.

According to the documentary-maker, there is plenty of reason not to fear the future. A key element of 2040’s success is that the world Gameau presents is envisioned only with technologies and solutions already invented today.

From micro-grid renewable energy in full swing in Bangladesh, to farmers switching to regenerative agricultural methods, to marine permaculture that could solve our food insecurity woes, it is an exercise in “fact-based dreaming” – and it shows that in many cases, action is being led from the ground up.

We know that climate destruction is hitting some of the poorest people in the world first and worst. At Oxfam, we regularly see examples of people displaced by rising sea levels, homes destroyed by super cyclones, and livelihoods and food sources under constant threat from more frequent and intense extreme weather events.

But it’s encouraging to see films like 2040 highlight how, in many cases, they’re also leading the charge – coming up with local solutions to global challenges, through innovation and community-focused initiatives that the rest of the world can learn from.

But is it only with the innocent naivety of a child that we can hope for an optimistic future?


The film touches on the immense wealth and power wielded by vested interests to quell political action and maintain our status quo reliant on fossil fuel and “big agriculture”. Perhaps deliberately, it leaves blank the space where a less-hopeful notion might linger – why, if we already possess all the necessary technologies to circumvent further catastrophic damage to our planet, are we not rolling these out worldwide, with the urgency that an existential threat to our civilisation demands?

2040 leaves the question hanging – but, crucially, it also gives hope. It shows that around the world there is already a groundswell of people, from campaigners to farmers to engineers, pushing forward against the political tide. While we imagine our best 2040 scenario, others are already busy creating it. If there is one thing to take away from this film, it’s that we already have all we need to build this future. What’s clear is that the onus now lies with us, and especially our political leaders, to act.

2040 is in cinemas from 22 August 2019.

By Kelsey-Rae Taylor, Oxfam New Zealand.

Want to take action? Click here to learn how you can make a stand against climate breakdown by supporting Oxfam.

Let’s even it up with rules for all


Here at Oxfam we work hard to beat inequality.

We do this because inequality perpetuates poverty, erodes trust, fuels crime, makes us unhappy, negates economic growth, and robs opportunities from people who are struggling to get by. It even cuts short people’s lives.

How can tax fight poverty

It might surprise you to know, but one of the most important things we can do to build an inclusive world of abundance is to transform our international tax system.

The tax system is how we share resources to get the big-ticket items that we all benefit from: roads, schools, police, teachers, public libraries, nurses, clinics, rubbish collection, safe water, and electricity. These are the public services that everyone makes use of, but that people who are poor rely on. Evidence tells us that the tax system can be a powerful tool to end inequality and poverty.

Making the rules fair for all

Our international tax rules say what multinational corporations can do and what governments can tax. They are old, dating back to WWII. Multinational corporations have found ways to game the rules to drain profits away from countries where they should contribute taxes, to countries where they contribute next to nothing.

Multinational corporations have also used countries’ need for investment as leverage to drive down corporate tax rates to the lowest they have ever been. This bad behaviour robs opportunities from people across the world.

Preparing for a more digital future

Meanwhile, our economies are changing. More and more of our lives are online: we buy and sell things and information; and we create value for corporations through sharing our own information. This digital economy makes it hard for people in government to get multinational corporations – including digital corporations – to make their fair contribution where they actually operate.

In response to this, representatives from 129 governments around the world – including New Zealand – are coming together to talk about how to fundamentally change the rules to make the international tax system fit for the modern world.

If governments get this right, we could see the end of shadowy corporate tax havens and the damaging race to the bottom on corporate tax. It could mark the beginning of a new tax era with fair taxes; where countries get what they need to nurture their people and the planet.

Four things have to happen.

One. Let all countries take part in decisions about international tax rules

When decisions are being made that impact on us, it is only right that we have our say.

Yet, for decades the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – a small club of only 36 wealthy countries, including New Zealand – has led decision-making about international tax rules. This has meant that countries that benefit from the rules have made the rules, leaving out countries that are poor.

This isn’t right, especially because countries that are poor rely most heavily on taxes from multinational corporations to provide services like health and education. They should be at the decision-making table.
The OECD has recently opened up to allow other countries to take part in decisions about international tax rules. But even now, only countries that have signed on to implement the OECD’s minimum tax standards are allowed to take part in decision-making. These 120 countries belong to what is called the ‘Inclusive Framework’. This means that many countries that are poor still don’t get a say in decisions about rules that impact on them.

Two. Simple rules that work for all

At the moment, the international tax system is incredibly complex. Even for New Zealand. When our people in parliament passed a law last year to help hold multinational corporations to account, the Specialist Tax Advisor said the legislation was “the most complex and technically challenging tax Bill that I have seen in the thirty years during which I have been a full-time tax professional”. *When an experienced tax accountant says something like this, you know it is bad.

Countries that are poor don’t have the resources to invest in sophisticated tax systems. This makes it more difficult for them to catch multinational corporations when they are gaming the rules and shirking from contributing their fair share. We need international tax rules that make the system simpler, not more complex. This will help us here in New Zealand, and also our neighbours across the Pacific region and beyond.

Three. Make rules that mean tax is paid where profits are made

For far too long, multinational corporations have been able to game the international tax rules to shift profits away from where they are made. They avoid contributing their fair share to the well-being of people in the countries where they make profits. It is time to make sure that the rules ensure all multinational corporations contribute their fair share, based on the actual profits they make in each country where they operate.

Four. Set a global minimum tax rate for multinational corporations

To beat inequality, we need a global minimum tax rate for multinational corporations – so they can’t get away with shirking their fair share. One way to stop multinational corporations driving corporate tax rates down and avoiding taxes across the world is for governments to agree on an ambitious minimum tax that all multinational corporations have to pay. This tax rate shouldn’t be too low – it needs to be set at a level that makes sure multinational corporations contribute their fair share in every country they operate. For this reason, the minimum tax rate also needs to be calculated at a country level – not just in the country where the multinational corporation has its headquarters.

*Turner, Therese, March 2018, Taxation (Neutralising Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) Bill, Report of the Specialist Tax Advisor to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, Turner & Associates: Wellington, Accessed on 2 September 2018 at:

Here’s how we’re helping rural farmers in Papua New Guinea


The onions from Steven Bare’s garden in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea bring more smiles than tears. He’s thrilled to harvest another bumper crop.

Steven and his wife Maria have turned their family’s fortunes around since taking part in an Oxfam project that helps rural farmers improve the quality and quantity of their bulb onions.

Steven says, “In the past, we spent time in the gardens, but not as seriously as what we are doing today. When we got our heads together and started this group, Oxfam introduced the bulb onions to help us move forward. Oxfam funded the project, and with this came a lot of good things and change.”

Thanks to you, business is booming for Steven and the other families in his farming co-op.

“We became more engaged with this work and it has affected our way of thinking and working. We now have set aims and goals. Oxfam gave us bulb onion seeds. With this, our lives have changed a lot.

“This will be the third harvest. We distribute the income equally amongst the four families. With the second harvest’s sales, we put the money into school fees and invested more in bulb onions.”

The father of four daughters says, “In the past, we never thought we could live this type of life, living well … simply because we had no money. We did not have good things that make up a house, like nice plates, cups, mattresses, and pillows and blankets. But when Oxfam came in, we were introduced to bulb onions and this product brought money, just enough for us to buy what we always wished for.”

With a proud smile, he says, “This is life-changing.

Story originally featured in Oxfam Australia’s Voices July 2019.

Refugees the world over dream of rebuilding their shattered lives

Today is World Refugee Day, and with it comes a new world record: a global rise for the seventh year in a row in the total number of refugees, asylum seekers and forcibly displaced people.

Refugees the world over dream of rebuilding their shattered lives. Like us, they have experiences to share and ideas they dare to hope might one day turn into reality. Darren Brunk, a humanitarian specialist with Oxfam New Zealand, reflects on time spent in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.


Both my grandmothers were expert quilters. My mother plays her sewing machine like Glenn Gould could a piano. I know a perfect stitch when I see one. But if you promise not to tell my mum, I’ll let you in on a secret; Sara beats them all, hands down.

I met Sara*, and others like her, at a women’s group in Teknaf; a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Sara and the fifteen other women sitting with me on the woven mat floor of a woven-walled shelter have fled vicious armed violence across the border in Myanmar.

The women laid out the most strikingly beautiful and intricate embroidery I have ever seen, making me think how much my mother and grandmothers would feel at home in this company. Proud women across many ages have shown me their work; colourful intricate patterns they hope to display on International Women’s Day, to share publicly the remarkable skills they’ve rarely been able to share outside the home. Skills they hope, if seen, can be used to generate money to alleviate some of the difficulties in their family’s frayed and stretched lives.

Sara has remarkable skills and also remarkable courage, to survive the horrors she has witnessed. And now, to join this women’s group, one of the first in the camps, where women are meeting publicly, some for the first time in their lives, to talk about the very different struggles men and women face in the camps. The burden for mending families and communities rests largely on women like Sara. In the Rohingya camps, women and girls are the majority. In the home, women invest 70 hours a week caring for other family members, compared to 11 for the average man.

Darren Brunk with women’s group in host community, talking about livelihood needs

In a very real way, in these camps, Sara is stitching her life back together. A needle and thread are her one hope for income in a country where, as a Rohingya, she is forbidden from work. The mats, walls and roof of her shelter are made of grasses woven expertly together by her hands. Even walking through the camps – a mad and tight patchwork of lanes and stairs twisting around sharp shorn hills – is like a needle stitching an intricate pattern; left to be unpicked to return from each trip to the latrine, community garden or string of corrugated iron shops lining the main roads.

Sara is a refugee. Today, World Refugee Day, belongs to her; it is a day to tell her story, to remember that in every aspect of her life, she is stitching and mending her way – and the way of her family and community – back to a full life. Last year there were more people displaced around the world than any time since the Second World War, including 25.4 million refugees. The numbers increased in 2018 for the seventh year in a row, including in Bangladesh where new arrivals add daily to the 900,000 Rohingya in the camps around Cox’s Bazar.

Darren with a men’s group talking about domestic violence and how to discuss with neighbours and community

As I sit with Sara and the women of this group; as I look at the art from their hands, I desperately wish I could buy one of these precious creations, and bring it home to New Zealand to better tell Sara’s story. But I can’t. I’m not here as a buyer. As a humanitarian, I am a partner to the whole group – a space where I have been welcomed, to sit and share their stories, so that I might learn how to best bring support to them all. If I choose one, what is the unwritten price that is paid? I may damage my ability to work with the others.

So I ask what the group needs; what are the tools we can help provide as they stitch their lives back together. To a woman, the answer is the same, ‘we want to go home.’

Looking at the beauty these women have made at their fingertips, I wonder at how much weaving they have yet to do in their lives, and if they will ever be able to follow the threads that tie them back to their homes.

There is still much work to do, by many.  But for now I see that in these women’s hands, there is hope in its most tangible form.\

Folk singers singing songs about early forced marriage in Balukhali camp

*Name has been changed to protect identity.


Oxfam International’s 10-point plan

You will have seen the stories in the news recently about the sexual misconduct of former Oxfam employees in Haiti and beyond.

We are ashamed, angry and so very sorry for the appalling behaviour that happened in our name.

We want you to know that we are committed to fixing the things we got wrong so we can better protect the people we serve – and continue to fight poverty wherever and however it exists.

What we’re doing right now: the Oxfam Action Plan.

The actions outlined below detail what is currently being undertaken, and what else has been agreed by the Oxfam Leadership Team, in response to this crisis. We will follow this plan and continue to listen and learn to ensure a comprehensive and accountable response from Oxfam around the world, which will lead to deep-rooted and lasting change.

We want to make significant and necessary changes to our policy, practice and culture to help stamp out exploitation, abuse and harassment from all parts of our confederation – protecting those we work with and ensuring justice for survivors of abuse.

So that we are fully transparent, the following information is taken directly from an official document being shared globally with everyone who works for Oxfam.

The actions listed here focus on:

  • Demonstrating a meaningful commitment to transparency and accountability, including through the establishment of an independent commission to review our past and current work – the findings of which will be public, and the recommendations of which will guide further action by Oxfam
  • Changing policies, practices and culture within Oxfam, including significantly increasing our investment in safeguarding and in gender training and support
  • Working with others across the humanitarian and development sector to prevent this from happening again, including efforts to reform recruitment and vetting processes to prevent offenders from moving between organisations

1. Appointing 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.
We established the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change in March 2018 to review Oxfam’s culture, accountability, and safeguarding policies and practice.
The Commission published its Interim Report on 16 January 2019 and Oxfam’s Management Response, committed to addressing weaknesses in its current approaches and to building a culture of greater safety and equality. The Commission met for the final time in March 2019 and is now drafting its final report, which will be released in June 2019.
In its final report, the Commission is reviewing the outcomes of a community-based research initiative to examine safeguarding awareness and reporting mechanisms in three countries; reflecting the findings of Commissioner visits to Peru, Haiti, Papua New-Guinea and Jordan where they met with Oxfam staff, partners and local communities; and will include the outcomes of an Oxfam culture survey; the report of a consultancy group that has reviewed past safeguarding cases (excluding those that the UK Charity Commission and other external bodies have reviewed), to recommend how Oxfam could improve its case management, and further input from the Survivor Reference Group that met for the fourth and final time.
Oxfam’s leaders and managers around the world shared the Commission’s interim findings with their teams to reflect and discuss new ways of working. The Commission has commented on the design of Oxfam’s new Safeguarding Shared Service.
2. Reiterated commitment across Oxfam to collaborate with all relevant authorities, including regulators and governments
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.
Oxfam has worked hard to ensure that its programs and safeguarding approaches comply with the laws and regulations of all the countries where it operates and with the changing requirements of donors and regulators. Early evidence suggests Oxfam’s new Standard Operating Procedures for reporting misconduct have improved timeliness and consistency of reporting, including on safeguarding cases, and increased reporting and dialogue with national authorities. There is more work to be done to simplify these procedures and ensure they’re being used consistently. A review will take place in late April 2019.
As part of a routine review of Oxfam’s ability to meet sector-wide Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS) for humanitarian response, several areas for improvement were identified in its Summary Report. These included ensuring that communities are made more aware of Oxfam’s new safeguarding processes and to systematically build upon previous work. Oxfam’s next audit to check progress against criteria identified by CHS is in June/July 2019. This will cover all aspects of humanitarian response, from business support functions to program quality and organizational effectiveness.
3. Re-examining past cases, and encouraging 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.
Oxfam commissioned two external consultants to review past cases and recommend improvements. They found a considerable variation in the policies and practice of the confederation. Many of the recommendations have been adopted or agreed in the past 6-12 months and are feeding into the establishment of the new Safeguarding Shared Service and single case management system which will operate across the whole of Oxfam, as well as in planned reviews of policies and procedures as part of our continuing improvement approach.
Our Global Humanitarian Team has improved the way that Oxfam shares information about safeguarding with affected communities (adapted from six core principles developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee). Its Monitoring, Evaluation Accountability and Learning Team has also developed specific guidance on how its work can be directly informed by community members, including piloting the use of phones or tablets to gather feedback from local people. This will be scaled up over the coming two years.
Oxfam conducted a Humanitarian Safe Programing Review in July/August 2018. This identified actions including designing a new program for staff and partners, so we will have more trained safeguarding specialists across multiple roles. We are updating our “good practice” guides and translating them into multiple languages. In March 2019, as an example, one Protection expert in Indonesia trained 214 Oxfam staff and partners in the Sulawesi response. Oxfam is expanding its “Safe Programming” approach, building on the learning within the humanitarian program and applying this to our development and humanitarian work.
Oxfam’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning teams have piloted the use of anonymous case studies to enable staff and partners to incorporate a safe response and manage risk within MEL processes, successfully trialed in Pakistan and Latin America and now shared throughout the confederation. Oxfam’s Country offices have publicized information about how to report on safeguarding for instance by displaying posters in Oxfam and partner offices including in local languages. In Papua New Guinea, for example, Oxfam is exploring different ways with our partners to socialize and increase awareness safeguard reporting throughout the country.
4. Increasing our investment in safeguarding with immediate effect
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.
In 2018-19, Oxfam International invested €1.1m to establish and run the Independent Commission and increase staff capacity and expertize. This boost in investment has substantially improved Oxfam’s organizational understanding of safeguarding. While acknowledging that there is more work to do, our “awareness and prevention” work is becoming timelier, better
quality and more consistent – and we’re able to manage cases better now when they do arise. All this, in turn, is driving greater trust in our safeguarding systems, including by receiving more reporting of cases among staff. We now need to concentrate on making sure that Oxfam’s reporting mechanisms are clearer and better understood and embedded in our work with partners and communities.
Oxfam conducted a confederation-wide survey to open up a process of reflective discussion and internal debate about Oxfam’s culture. The outcomes of the Culture Survey were analyzed in March 2019, and the Executive Board responded with a range of actions, including to re-enforce deeper engagement with staff, improve prioritization and planning, and earmark a budget and capacity specifically for cultural change in 2019-20.
The Executive Board approved a Safeguarding Shared Service, with the aim that it would begin delivering some services by July 2019. This new function will incorporate a single rigorous governance and oversight function for safeguarding to ensure that all cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse are handled appropriately and consistently. This will result in improved prevention and reporting of cases and strengthen Oxfam’s ability to improve safeguarding practice across the confederation. Our Global Humanitarian Team invested £400,000 in its “Safe Programming” Project (see Section 3).
5. Strengthening 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.
Oxfam’s new Safeguarding Shared Service will begin delivering some services from July 2019. The team is responsible for developing and managing new safeguarding policies, training and safe programming tools, case reporting mechanisms, a single case management system, and standard
operating procedures for case management. It will work in partnership with program teams, HR, regional and country teams to ensure that our prevention and case management is stronger and more consistent.
All affiliates, regions and countries are now using Oxfam’s safer recruitment measures as standard. All staff are required to sign Oxfam’s Code of Conduct as a condition for employment. Oxfam is using World Check to detect if an individual has a history of fraudulent activity. Oxfam has a stronger system in place now for checking and providing references. Oxfam has agreed in principal to adopt the SCHR Inter-Agency Misconduct Disclosure Scheme, developed by nine of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations, as standard for referencing where this is legal.
Oxfam is now using stronger new policies on Child Safeguarding and Protection against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse across its confederation. New Youth Safeguarding and Digital Safeguarding policies will be approved soon and a Vulnerable Adult Safeguarding Policy is now under consultation. We have trained 102 staff in investigation techniques to increase our capacity to respond to reports of misconduct. Of these, 93 are now registered on a global database and can be deployed around the world on demand.
Oxfam has two new HR initiatives: “Welcome to Oxfam” – a mandatory induction course for new staff that has a strong safeguarding component so that everyone understands Oxfam’s Code of Conduct and core values; and “Let’s Talk” – a new approach to performance management that focuses on three key behaviors of enabling, building relationships and mutual accountability.
Oxfam has new ethical content guidelines as a global standard for how personal testimony, images and video is gathered, and how it should be processed and used in communications. These rules help to ensure that people’s rights are upheld, both in how their story is gathered and how it gets told.
6. Re-enforcing 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.
Oxfam agreed a “Safeguarding and Culture Strategy” in 2018 to create a new cultural and working environment where all staff would feel safer and more supported to reflect our values in their work. Safeguarding – and everything it means – is now more deeply understood across Oxfam. Our staff are more aware, are more comfortable in speaking out and challenging unacceptable behaviors.
We have increased our 2019-20 budget for culture change and creating new roles. Some Oxfam affiliate and country teams have created new posts dedicated to cultural change. We have brought in specialist insights, including from feminist activists, to help boost and share our knowledge. A dedicated staff group called ‘Living Our Values Everyday’ is grounding feminist principles across our cultural change work. Our Executive Board has approved a new Sexual Diversity and Gender Identity Policy. We are grounding our new Strategic Planning Process in feminist principles. We have opened many spaces for staff to reflect and debate, including a focus on the Independent Commission’s Interim Report and the outcomes of an all-staff Culture Survey. We have new performance management processes that prioritize how an individual works rather than solely what is achieved; new recruitment processes whereby applicants can better demonstrate their understanding and commitment to our values; and new induction processes that focus on ingraining values, good conduct and gender justice.
Oxfam Country Teams have held staff workshops on culture, gender and power, including most recently in Afghanistan, Haiti, Senegal, Kenya, South Sudan and Ghana. In the United States we have new Employee Resource Groups working on People of Color, Young Women Professionals and LGBTQIA+. In Australia we are working with Melbourne University on a study on Respectful Relations at Work. In Canada and elsewhere we have used the Independent Commission’s report to guide culture improvements. In Germany, Denmark and elsewhere we have run staff workshops on feminism and power. In the UK we have begun deeper work around race and inequality, including with open-staff workshops, and have based two Oxfam-wide leadership programs upon feminist transformational leadership. We have developed thinking around providing support for all survivors. In Mexico we have run internal campaigns including in support of witnesses. In the Netherlands, as part of our deeper conversations around culture and policy, we discussed how could Oxfam support a partner organization that champions the rights of sex workers, against our Code of Conduct that prohibits payment for sex: we can explain the rationale for our Code not discriminating against sex workers but rather in acting to minimize the risk of exploitation.
Oxfam’s Country Teams are working with our national partner organizations, at a minimum to ensure that they comply with our new Code of Conduct, including in different languages. This work will extend now through to signing new contracts and Oxfam supporting our partners to strengthen their own safeguarding practices. In this, we are aiming that our own Culture Change work will extend beyond Oxfam and support debate across our sector.
7. Working 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 Centre 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.
Oxfam safeguarding staff are members of various INGO and national cross-sector working groups all around the world, including government and donor-led initiatives. Along with other INGOs, Oxfam is developing a Humanitarian ID system (Passport Initiative) whereby misconduct will be recorded and made available to an individual’s future employers. We are also working with other agencies on a ‘Misconduct Disclosure Scheme’, a referencing system, leading specifically on the legal work and its basic features. We are funding a part-time position to coordinate and finalize this initiative as well as rolling it out across Oxfam. Oxfam is part of an inter-agency group developing a Call to Action to prevent gender-based violence in humanitarian situations.
In America we’re seeing consistent demand to support other agencies on safeguarding: we participated recently in a World Bank workshop on designing programs that are accountable to communities; with the Rockefeller Foundation to explore the links between evaluation and safeguarding; with the OECD’s proposed Instrument for Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse; and with the UN Women’s proposed International Commission to combat Sexual Harassment. In Australia, we advised the Australian Council for International Development on sector wide safety standards and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s own prevention policy. In Canada, we co-chair the sector’s Steering Committee to Prevent and Address Sexual Misconduct where we’ve urged other agencies to sign up to the Leaders Pledge. In Germany, we are helping to strengthen best practice in the multi-agency group, VENRO, as we are doing similarly in Quebec, and Spain, in the UK with BOND, in Ireland with the Dochas Safeguarding Group, in Italy with the Italian Agency for International Cooperation, and in Denmark with Global Fokus. In Holland, Oxfam gave the keynote speech to 200 charities at a symposium organized by the regulator Toezichthouder Goede Doelen.
In Western Sahara, we are working as part of the UNHCR’s Protection Coordination oversight of refugee camps. Our Latin America Country Directors are involved in on-going discussions with other agencies in the region, similarly in Ghana, Liberia and in Mauritania and Niger where we are strengthening our local partners. We have signed a compulsory protocol in the Central African Republic that will allow agencies to exchange information on safeguarding cases. We are reporting on-going work sharing best practice on safeguarding protections with other agencies in Tajikistan, Colombia, Zambia, Jordan, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Malawi – where our team also organized a public protest to end violence against women and girls – and in Rwanda, where we are also raising awareness not only of sexual harassment but also of teenage pregnancies in schools, and have helped to train 40 health professionals in how best to support survivors of gender-based violence. In Haiti, Oxfam has built strong relations with the EU, OCHA, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, the Canadian Embassy and others. Oxfam is also an active member of the Safeguarding Committee of Haiti’s national forum for coordinating NGO activities (CLIO).
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.
In 2018 Oxfam launched a “Partner Integrity Survey”, opening discussions with our partner organizations about how they manage cases involving staff misconduct. More than 400 partners responded. We found that around 90% of them already had zero-tolerance against sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse and more than 80% had a code of conduct. We also designed a way to better understand the safeguarding needs of local staff, partners and communities, in order that they could make more informed choices about organizing better support for survivors. We conducted a review, which showed that 10% of our partners are specifically women’s organizations, going down to just 7% in our humanitarian emergency responses. We’re now using this information to systematically increase the number and quality of our partnerships with women’s rights groups across the board.
Oxfam has changed the methodology through which it assesses the quality and standards of the partners that we work with, from a simple check of whether a potential partner met Oxfam’s safeguarding criteria, to a more rounded and mutual assessment of the standards that both parties must achieve. This approach is being adopted by program teams and will help us to meet donor expectations in a proportionate way and ensure partners have more time to strengthen their work. Roll out is beginning in May/June 2019.
Oxfam is establishing a fund to support the capacity and capability of local partners in safeguarding and other areas of integrity such as financial management. It is designed to benefit the whole of the sector, and not just Oxfam. Our Global Campaigns and Advocacy team is committed to increase Oxfam’s engagement with women’s rights organizations across the board.
In the countries where we work around the world, Oxfam is focusing on establishing partnerships that bring us closer to women’s rights movements, so that we can better learn and support them in turn. Oxfam Canada have launched new women’s rights programs into Pakistan, Bangladesh and two in Guatemala and lobbied successfully with women’s groups to increase the federal budget for women’s rights to $160m over five years. In Latin America, we are developing joint work plans with feminist partners – specifically in Haiti, this includes building a “Young Citizen” project to foster leadership skills of young women in the cities. We are training women leader in Afghanistan and Benin, Central African Republic, and Chad, and Ghana. In Rwanda, Oxfam was selected to partner with FEMNET, COCAFEM and the Rwanda Women Network) to strengthen regional umbrella organizations. In Sierra Leone – after the country’s President had declared a state of emergency on child abuse – Oxfam volunteered to be part of a government initiative with national women’s rights organizations to improve safeguarding in schools.
9. Listening to the public
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.
Oxfam’s senior leaders are taking personal responsibility for communicating with supporters and the public. Oxfam affiliates have all reached out to the public, supporters, donors and other external stakeholders in their own markets, issuing timely progress reports and updates on social media and all affiliate websites. In Australia, Oxfam conducted a public survey to ascertain levels of trust, as we did in Germany to 100,000 supporters. In countries where Oxfam runs High Street trading shops, we have held events and concert tours, and our volunteers have consistently tried to engage with the public where they can. In the Netherlands, Oxfam’s Executive Director sent a letter to individual supporters describing all our measures to tackle areas of weakness identified in the Independent Commission’s interim report and received dozens of emails and letters mainly appreciative of the open and honest reflection. All Oxfam affiliates have been updating institutional donors on our progress and sharing the findings of the Independent Commission’s interim report.
Oxfam continues to use the opportunities of public fora and debate to discuss safeguarding issues, responding to feedback directly from the public and demonstrating the progress that we are making.
10. Recommit to 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.
Oxfam has committed that 15% of all program funding will be used specifically for gender justice programs. This is part of our strategic planning process and key performance indicators. Gender Justice work is one of Oxfam’s top four fundraising priorities for 2019-20.
Oxfam’s Gender Justice Platform is responsible for our thought-leadership, political influencing, effective programming, knowledge sharing and resource mobilization on gender justice and women’s rights issues. It has finalized a reference guide that explores key concepts and advises on reflective practice, including amplifying the scope and application of feminist thinking in all of Oxfam’s work. It will be shared across Oxfam in May 2019. Two members of Oxfam’s Gender Justice Platform will participate in Oxfam’s Strategy Development Core Team. Oxfam’s global Guide to Feminist Influencing will strengthen Oxfam’s expertise of feminist principles in policy, advocacy and campaigns.
Oxfam’s Global Humanitarian Team has increased its gender and protection capacity as well as its support for teams in applying feminist principles in their work, including priority partnerships with local women’s rights organizations.

Oxfam International collated safeguarding data from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019

Over the past few years and especially since February 2018, Oxfam has encouraged its approximate 10,000 staff, 50,000 volunteers, 3000 partner organizations and millions of people it works with in communities in 70 countries across the world, to speak out and report concerns and incidents affecting them, even when the incident itself took place in the past. At the same time, Oxfam is improving and increasing its capacity to support survivors and deal with cases as they arise.
Oxfam continues to improve its systems and processes relating to safeguarding including the management of safeguarding data across the confederation. Oxfam is committed to further improving our case and data management and reporting both internally and in collaboration with the wider sector. Oxfam has adopted commonly used definitions, including by the United Nations, relating to safeguarding.
Oxfam streamlined its confederation-wide case data collection through a central global database, which now contains all information reported from April 2018. The information provided here contains all cases reported to the database from April 2018 to the end of March 2019 (i.e. end of FY2019), irrespective of the time the incident occurred.

Cases reported:

294 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 cases:

Closed 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.

A breakdown of the 221 cases show that the complainant/survivors were made up of:

  • 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

Of the 221 cases, a breakdown of the Subject of Complaint (Perpetrator) shows that:

  • 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

Of the 221 closed cases, 200 cases reported were investigated, and action taken. The outcomes were:

  • 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.
In 21 of the 221 closed cases, the complainant did not wish to go forward to an investigation.
Oxfam offers and provides support to survivors from the moment that an incident is reported, during the investigation of the case and once concluded and even when an investigation does not take place. This support can include counselling, health care and legal support.

Open cases:

At the end of March 2019 Oxfam continues to investigate 73 open cases.
Given that Oxfam is taking a survivor centered approach, some investigations take additional time to ensure that they are conducted safely and at a pace that survivors are comfortable with . Oxfam is committed to supporting survivors and remains committed to creating a culture of zero tolerance and encouraging people to come forward to report their concerns.

Correction 20 May, 2019:

In publishing our safeguarding data, on 13 May, we incorrectly stated that 79 staff had been dismissed following investigations into allegations of sexual abuse, exploitation and harassment. We should have stated that 79 of the cases resulted in disciplinary action including 43 dismissals. We apologise for our error and any confusion it may have caused.

Got a question? Get in touch.

If you would like to talk more about how Oxfam is stamping out abuse, or about anything else that has concerned you, please do contact our Supporter Relations team.

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