The Oxfam confederation welcomes the final report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change.
“This is exactly the report we asked for following incidents of sexual misconduct in Haiti that came to light last year”, said Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. “We set up the Independent Commission to tell us hard truths about our organisation, and to be clear about where and how we can improve. Oxfam accepts the report’s findings and we welcome its recommendations.”
The report points to significant weaknesses in the global Oxfam’s reporting mechanisms, as well as safeguarding process failures and accountability gaps within country offices and individual Oxfam affiliates. While recognising that they are not universally in all Oxfam affiliates, the Commission also pointed to serious staff issues including a work culture that in some contexts can be unsupportive and even toxic. They also note that the complexity of the organisation of the confederation may be hampering Oxfam’s ability to comprehensively address the safeguarding and organisational culture challenges.
“As an African woman, I encounter both sexism and racism in many places I go. I am pained and angered that some colleagues have done so within our organisation. We are forcefully challenging such unacceptable behaviours. I am determined to ensure that Oxfam’s internal culture lives up to the values we espouse in our work around the world”, said Winnie Byanyima.
At the same time, the Commission recognises the progress that has been made by all Oxfam to strengthen its approach to safeguarding and the organisation’s “tremendous will, energy, and commitment to reform.” Since February 2018, the Commission notes that Oxfam has taken important steps, including but not limited to new confederation wide prevention of sexual misconduct and child protection policies, standard operating procedures for reporting misconduct and a single Oxfam-wide safeguarding network. The report notes that Oxfam globally also recently developed its first survivor supporter guidelines and is working together with partners to build their capacity to address and prevent misconduct. In addition, Oxfam has strengthened its annual performance review approach to ensure that all staff support our values, our code of conduct and our leadership expectations. These changes form part of the improvements that Oxfam has been making under its “Ten Point Action Plan” to transform its working culture and strengthen its global safeguarding systems
Winnie Byanyima said: “I thank the Commission for recognising and valuing the important changes we have already made. They have rightly said we must now be courageous in delivering further reform. I could not agree more. We are moving quickly in changing our workplace culture and will continue to implement all of the recommendations of the Commission.”
Additional actions that Oxfam is planning include:
- Mobilising a new €550,000 (NZD 940,000) “Global Integrity Fund” to help strengthen safeguarding work of local civil society organisations;
- Boosting its own safeguarding capacity and resources in the most fragile and challenging environments in which it operates;
- Establishing two new global senior leadership roles of Chief Ethics Officer and Culture Lead
The report described Oxfam’s 10,000 worldwide staff as its “greatest asset” and noted that they are “eager to contribute to building a safer Oxfam.”
“I am constantly humbled by the sheer dedication of my colleagues, whose tireless work to combat global poverty and inequality is recognised in the report,” Byanyima said. “As the Commission says, our staff are passionate about and loyal to Oxfam’s values – they want to see Oxfam change and grow. We owe it to them to deliver, and they should be part of this process.”
The Commission also referenced its research into local communities’ experiences in three countries where multiple international and local agencies were working on major humanitarian responses. Where the Commission could identify information about a specific agency or individual, it was able to alert that agency to investigate. The Commission presented no new or specific allegations of sexual abuse against Oxfam staff from this research.
Nevertheless, Oxfam says that the levels of sexual abuse and exploitation of local people the Commission describes from this part of its research were shocking and deeply unacceptable.
Rachael Le Mesurier, Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director said that “while the Commission did not refer any specific new allegations of sexual abuse to Oxfam about our staff, that doesn’t lessen our concern or our duty to act”. Le Mesurier said that Oxfam abhors the sexual abuse of vulnerable local people and that “tragically we have not done enough in the past to ensure that the communities we work with are protected and able to live their lives with dignity. The IC has urged our sector to redouble its commitment in this area, and we are ready to play our part.”
Le Mesurier said: “The Commission says that Oxfam affiliates around the world, have taken an important step in being publicly committed to change and transparent in our work. I’m heartened that it says we have the potential to become a voice of leadership in wider sector reform, in all the countries where we work. But it has given a strong warning that we should not under-estimate the task ahead of us – and I, along with all of the Oxfam leadership, can assure everyone, we absolutely do not.”
UPDATE 28 JUNE 2019:
Since the publication of the Independent Commission’s report and issuing of this press release, Oxfam’s safeguarding team has conducted a review of background documents which had been passed to us during the final part of the Commission’s work.
This background material, which included testimony from confidential and anonymised focus groups conducted by Proteknon researchers for the Commission, has raised potential safeguarding issues of direct concern to Oxfam which we will now investigate. This is in addition to our continuing response to broader concerns arising from the Commission’s work, which it had raised directly with us at an earlier stage of its work.
We were extremely concerned to learn of this new information and are in contact with former members and staff of the IC to establish more detail. We will provide full support to anyone who wishes to make a formal complaint, and will do all we can to help identify any alleged perpetrators and hold them to account. We will also offer support to survivors who come forward.
Where there is evidence of an offence, we will, with the consent of the survivor, refer evidence to the appropriate authorities. The UK Charity Commission and relevant donors have been notified and we will keep them updated.
Oxfam is committed to tackling abuse and we are grateful to anyone with the courage to come forward.
We update once every six months on the outcome of completed cases as part of our safeguarding 10-point plan update.
Notes to Editors:
Oxfam set up the Independent Commission in Feb 2018 and gave it a full mandate – independently and publicly – to investigate its work and highlight what more Oxfam needed to do. The Commission was joined by eminent human rights leaders, including a former Women’s Minister in Haiti and a global expert on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Visit the Independent Commission’s website here.
Find out more about Oxfam’s Ten-Point Plan to transform its working culture and improve its collective systems of safeguarding policies and practises here.
Oxfam New Zealand is a part of an international confederation of 20 independent affiliates, working to end the injustice of poverty worldwide.