The Future is Equal

Oxfam announces leaders of Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct

Zainab Bangura, a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, and Katherine Sierra, a former Vice-President of the World Bank, will co-chair an Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change, Oxfam said today.

The Independent Commission has been formed in response to incidents of sexual misconduct by Oxfam staff in countries including Chad and Haiti and concerns about the way Oxfam responded to them at the time.

Ms Bangura served until recently as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She was formerly Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Ms Sierra was formerly the World Bank’s Vice-President for Human Resources and Sustainable Development. She co-led a World Bank Global Task Force to Tackle Gender-Based Violence.

Bangura and Sierra head an independent group of experts from around the world who will look into all aspects of Oxfam’s culture, policies and practises relating to the safe-guarding of staff, volunteers and beneficiaries.

The other Independent Commissioners are:

  • Aya Chebbi, co-founder of the Voice of Women Initiative and founding chair of Afrika Youth Movement;
  • James Cottrell, formerly the Global Chief Ethics Officer and Global Chief Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Officer at Deloitte;
  • Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women
  • Birgitta Ohlsson, MP and former Minister for European Union Affairs in Sweden;
  • Katharina Samara-Wickrama, director of the Issues Affecting Women Programme (IAWP) at the Oak Foundation

The Independent Commission will present a report with recommendations on what more Oxfam and the wider aid sector can do to create a culture of zero tolerance for any kind of sexual harassment, abuse or exploitation. The findings and recommendations of the Independent Commission will be made public.

Katherine Sierra said, “I have undertaken to help lead this Independent Commission because it is essential to understand what went wrong in the past, whether or not actions taken by Oxfam since 2011 have been effective in reducing the risk of such incidents, and what more they can do now to minimize the chance of such things happening again and to ensure that any incidents that do occur are responded to appropriately, including in terms of the support provided to victims and survivors. I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to identify the challenging and crucial lessons, both for Oxfam and the wider humanitarian and development sectors.”

Zainab Bangura said: “I have long admired the work of Oxfam and other aid agencies whose staff often risk their lives to help others in terribly difficult situations. That’s why so many of us were deeply concerned to see the reports of what some former Oxfam staff did in Haiti. We will ensure that we put the survivors and victims of abuse at the heart of our enquiries as we work to understand how the aid sector can become a safer place for all.”

Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said: “We are grateful to the eminent women and men who have agreed to serve on this Independent Commission. Oxfam recognises that the Commission’s independence must be paramount in order to provide transparency and accountability to our partners, the public, and above all to the survivors of abuse. We must now ensure Oxfam and our sector is doing everything we can to be a place of safety and dignity for all women and men.”

The Independent Commission is part of a number of measures Oxfam is taking to improve safeguarding. In the past three weeks Oxfam has tripled its funding to safeguarding and doubled the size of its dedicated support teams. It has announced new measures to ensure that no staff member can get a reference in Oxfam’s name without it being approved first by an accredited referee. Oxfam has committed to work with others in the sector on a humanitarian passporting system that would stop offenders from moving from one organization to another.

It has also strengthened its whistle-blowing processes and is encouraging people to come forward if they have ever experienced or witnessed exploitation or abuse from any Oxfam staff member: (+44) (0) 1 865 47 2120.