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 all of us at Oxfam, 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.
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.